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Isaiah Thomas says he is finally pain free, able to work out again

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If we can get 2015-16 Isaiah Thomas back — the Boston edition, or even one of the versions before that — the NBA will be a much more entertaining place next season.

After a train wreck of a season split between Cleveland and Los Angeles, Isaiah Thomas had surgery to repair the torn labrum in his hip, and he is apparently feeling much better.

It’s a good sign. We all want the one-and-only Sacramento Pizza Guy back.

Tweets alone are not going to get Thomas the Brinks truck backing up to his door he wants. As he has had to do his entire career, Thomas is going to have to prove himself to the many doubters. Teams are going to be cautious with him this summer. He’s already known to be a defensive liability, and coming off surgery into a very tight free agent market a big deal is not likely on the table. Thomas could find himself taking a shorter one or one+one contract to re-establish his ability to play and his reputation.

Here’s hoping he does.

Cavaliers, Celtics ready for Eastern Conference finals rematch

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BOSTON (AP) — The jerseys and venues will be the same, but so much has changed since the last time Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics met in the Eastern Conference finals.

Kyrie Irving was dealt to Boston in a blockbuster offseason deal for Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder. But following a roster upheaval in February, the Cavs were left with only five players from last year’s team that rolled past the Celtics 4-1 to earn a place in the NBA Finals.

Irving will watch this year’s rematch from the sideline after a pair of knee surgeries late in the regular season denied him an opportunity to play this postseason. It was the capstone of an injury-plagued year in Boston that also saw the seasons of Gordon Hayward and rookie Daniel Theis truncated.

The one constant has been Cleveland’s LeBron James, who at age 33 has again found another gear in the playoffs despite the different pieces surrounding him. His 34.3 scoring average in these playoffs is his highest since the 2009 postseason.

James can become the sixth player in league history to play in at least eight consecutive NBA Finals. The five others who have done so all played with the Celtics, led by Hall of Famer Bill Russell’s run of 10 straight appearances.

James hasn’t yet had a chance to reflect on his own run but says he isn’t taking anything for granted at this point in his career.

“You dream about being able to play in big games in the NBA and even when I got to the NBA that was one of my only goals to be as great as I can be, to play in big games in the NBA and be remembered and I think I’ve done that in my career,” he said. “Just trying to add onto it while I can.”

The series starts Sunday in Boston. This is the eighth playoff matchup between the teams overall, with the Celtics leading 4-3.

The Celtics are seeking their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010, when they got past James and the Cavs in the East semifinals.

Since Irving’s injury, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has relied heavily on veteran Al Horford and a youthful corps that includes 24-year-olds Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, 21-year-old Jaylen Brown and 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum.

Horford is averaging career playoff-high 17 points per game, while carrying the leadership torch.

Rozier has flourished in a starting role since Irving was sidelined in mid-March. It’s carried over into the postseason where he is averaging 18.2 points per game. And Tatum is coming of a series against Philadelphia that saw him average 23.6 points per game – the second-highest by a Celtics rookie in franchise history.

“I feel like we more together (than last year),” Rozier said. “Obviously guys been going down all year and it’s like you never know who’s going to down. But we found a way, we pulled together.”

As for Rozier’s prediction for the series?

“Stay tuned,” he said.

 

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

Add Isaiah Thomas to list of people confused coaching peers didn’t vote for Brad Stevens

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The National Basketball Coaches Association — made up of all 30 NBA coaches — cast their ballots, and Toronto’s Dwane Casey was named Coach of the Year. A good choice, the Raptors revamped their culture and offense, then went on to win a franchise-record 59 games.

What caught everyone’s attention was who didn’t get a vote: Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Brett Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Quin Snyder and Terry Stotts each got at least one vote, but not Stevens.

Celtics fans took that about as well as you’d imagine.

Among those taken aback, former Celtic Isaiah Thomas.

Why no love for Stevens? It is a little odd, but take off your tin foil hats, there is no conspiracy. Sorry Mulder, there is no grand plan to keep Boston down. It was likely a combination of four factors:

1) The coaches each only get one vote. When the NBA’s official Coach of the Year voting is released after the June 25 televised awards ceremony, you will see those media members who got to vote had to give their top three choices for the award. I imagine if asked to name three coaches, Stevens would have been on many if not most ballots, but other coaches did not give him the top spot, and that’s all they were asked to do.

2) It’s an incredibly deep pool of coaches. This was the hardest award to vote for this year because one could make a very legitimate case for a lot of guys. Popovich coached up an injured team, too. Quin Snyder’s Jazz were the most resilient team in the NBA and had smart sets to go with Donovan Mitchell. Nate McMillan’s Pacers were supposed to be in the lottery. The point is, there’s a lot of qualified coaches and the guys voting only got to vote for one.

3) Brad Stevens is not a great self-promoter. Not that any of these guys were out campaigning for the award, but Stevens isn’t one to draw attention to himself.

4) The voting was before the playoffs. While Stevens did an amazing regular season coaching job, a lot of fans have seen the Celtics over-achieve in the postseason and now are incensed that the other NBA coaches didn’t recognize Steven’s greatness. However, I bet a lot of those fans, if given one vote before the playoffs started, would have chosen a different coach.

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown: “The doctors didn’t want me to play”

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Thursday morning, Jaylen Brown was listed as doubtful for Game 2, still slowed by a hamstring injury.

By Thursday night he was in uniform, scoring 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting and being part of the key Celtics run at the end of the first half that turned a blowout into a game again.

What changed? Brown admitted he ignored the doctors (via Raul Martinez of NBC 10 in Boston).

It’s a little surprising the Celtics let him play, this is an organization that has taken the long view all season when it comes to injuries. Hamstrings are easy to reaggravate and Boston doesn’t want Brown to lose part of his off-season work to chase playoff wins now, Boston did that with Isaiah Thomas last year and it didn’t work out for the player. However, the injury was at a place Brown got to have his say.

It couldn’t have worked out much better for Boston.

With LeBron’s pending free agency, Game 7 vs. Pacers takes on extra weight

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James is on the brink of his earliest NBA playoff exit – and maybe another departure from Cleveland.

This Game 7 has a win-or-leave-home element.

After being bloodied and blown off the floor in Game 6 by the Pacers in Indianapolis, James and the Cavaliers staggered home with their roller-coaster season possibly headed toward a crash.

Only a win on Sunday over Indiana will prevent elimination and kick-start a summer in Cleveland that will center on James, who can opt out of his $35.6 million contract and become a free agent on July 1.

The stakes couldn’t be much higher. It’s the kind of game James lives to play.

“It’s just the love of the game and wanting to be remembered,” James said following a demoralizing 121-87 loss Friday night. “Game 7, I always said, is the two greatest words in sports. Us having a Game 7 on our floor, our fans are going to be truly excited to be a part of that. And hope our guys are excited about that as well, and understand that just don’t take those moments for granted.

“I’ve been a part of Game 7s for quite a while now and it’s just something that you wish you can get back and when you’re done playing the game.”

James has never lost a first-round series, going 12-0 with many of them sweeps on his way to winning three championships and seven straight appearances in the Finals.

But nothing has come easy for the 33-year-old or the Cavs, whose regular-season flaws – suspect defense, no reliable second scoring option – have been exposed by the young-and-hungry Pacers.

Indiana has taken it to Cleveland, and the fifth-seeded Pacers believe they can win one more and finally take down James, who has ended their season three times in the playoffs since 2013.

“We were confident even before this series started,” said Indiana All-Star Victor Oladipo, who snapped out of a shooting slump to score 28 in Game 6. “We’re still confident now. Game 7 is going to be a hostile environment. It’s going to be very emotional. But we’re looking forward to the challenge. It’s going to be a dog fight.

“We know they’re going to be ready. And we have to be, too.”

Before losing Game 6, James’ teams had won 11 straight close-out games. The streak ending was hardly his fault.

The four-time MVP scored 22 points with seven rebounds and five rebounds in 31 minutes before sitting out the entire fourth quarter to rest when it became obvious the Cavs were not coming back. James has been brilliant throughout the series, averaging 32.7 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists.

Trouble is, he’s been doing it all by himself.

Kevin Love, Cleveland’s other All-Star, is averaging just 11 points and shooting 32 percent (22 of 68) from the field. Love has been playing with a sprained left thumb, but his shot is broken.

Love scored seven points in Game 6 on 3-of-10 shooting – the third time he’s scored 10 points or fewer in the series – and he also took a beating from Indiana’s bigs.

After trading Kyrie Irving to Boston last summer and then dealing Isaiah Thomas, who was supposed to replace Irving, at the Feb. 8 deadline, the Cavs were counting on Love to pick up his game in the playoffs.

They’re still waiting.

“It’s not me, but it’s not about me, either,” Love said softly following Game 6. “I’ve done a lot of other good things. I know you guys will talk about the offense, but I just got to find a way to impact the game in different ways.”

Fortunately, the Cavs have James, who is 4-2 in Game 7s and hasn’t lost a series finale since 2008 in his first stint with Cleveland. He’s averaged 33.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in Game 7, and he needs to eclipse those numbers to keep the Cavs’ season alive and delay a decision that already has Cleveland fans on edge.