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LeBron struggles, exchanges words with fan after Game 3 loss

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James‘ frustrating night kept going after one of the worst playoff games of his splendid career.

James exchanged words with a fan late Sunday night after the Boston Celtics stormed back from a 21-point deficit in the third quarter and shocked the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

As he walked down a hallway inside Quicken Loans Arena to the postgame news conference, James, who scored just 11 points and only one in the final 18 minutes, was heckled by the fan for his sub-par outing. James spun around and asked the man to repeat himself.

Security ushered the fan away from James, who then went to the podium and was blunt in assessing a very uncharacteristic game for the NBA’s best all-around player.

“I had a tough game, period,” he said. “Not just in the second half. Me, personally, I didn’t have it. My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game, building that lead. But me, personally, I didn’t have it. That’s all I’ve got to say about my performance.”

There wasn’t much to gush about, that’s for sure.

James didn’t score in the fourth quarter and went only 1 for 8 from the field with one rebound and one assist in the second half.

It was James’ lowest point total in the playoffs since he scored seven for Miami in the 2014 conference finals against Indiana, and before Boston’s comeback, James was 49-0 in playoff games his team led by at last 20 points.

Making it more staggering is that James has been so brilliant in this postseason, taking his exquisite game to an even higher level.

He had scored at least 30 points in eight consecutive playoff games, the first player to do that since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970, and there didn’t seem to be anything the Celtics could do to stop him.

But James went just 4 of 13 from the field, missing all four 3-pointers. He had six rebounds and six assists, but also committed six turnovers, including a costly miscue down the stretch when his pass was stolen by Jae Crowder.

“He’s human, so he’s going to have a night like this,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “He didn’t shoot the ball well, and we still had a 20-point lead. A game we should have won, but they played hard. They scrapped. They have a scrappy team. We knew that coming into tonight. We knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we got some things we can correct and come back ready to go on Tuesday (in Game 4).”

The Celtics, who were blown out by 44 points at home in Game 2, won despite being without star guard Isaiah Thomas. His season is over because of a hip injury, and although he’s not around, his presence was felt by his teammates who rallied to keep their season alive.

James was eager to break down film of the game on Monday, but he was able to recall much of what Boston did right.

“They moved the ball, and they kept us at bay,” he said. “We couldn’t get stops. We couldn’t get out in transition a lot. Those guys made plays. They made a lot of plays. They got some second-chance points. We only had two fast-break points, so they neutralized what we wanted to do.”

The loss snapped Cleveland’s 10-game winning streak in this postseason and a 13-game run dating to Game 4 of last year’s Finals.

James, who is trying to win his seventh consecutive conference title, tried to find a silver lining on an otherwise forgettable night.

“Some adversity is all part of the postseason,” he said. “I feel like you have to have some type of adversity in order to be successful. If it was going to happen, let it happen now; let us regroup. Let us regroup and all the narrative and everything that was going on, let’s regroup and let’s get back to playing desperate basketball, which they did tonight. So we’ve got to be a lot better, for sure.”

 

Kevin Durant on all the blowouts this postseason: “If you don’t like it, don’t watch it”

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There were a lot of double-digit wins and 20-point blowouts in the playoffs last season, but it felt like there was drama. This season, not so much. The average margin of victory this postseason is above 13 points per game. More importantly, the Warriors and Cavaliers are both on the cusp of going 12-0 and sweeping into the Finals, and that dominance has sucked the drama out of the playoffs (as have some untimely injuries).

While the two best teams are on a collision course, fans have been bored getting there. After he dropped 33 points, Kevin Durant was asked about that after the Warriors beat the Spurs by 12 in Game 3 Saturday night (a game that wasn’t as close as the score made it seem). He’s not concerned about fans level of entertainment.

What else was Durant going to say? “Close games are awesome, so we let up to keep this one tight, we thought the fans deserved it.” Or, “We talked before the game about taking it easy on the Spurs, not blowing them out, we know they’ve had injuries and we want them to feel good about themselves.” This isn’t U6 AYSO soccer where everybody gets a medal, this is a professional sport and Durant’s job is to make sure his team wins. He did that.

The problem is, fans do seem to be tuning out (based on ratings after the first round), and then with likely eight full days off between the end of the conference finals and the start of the NBA Finals (locked into a June 1 start) any momentum these playoffs had will be gone. This is not something the NBA can easily fix, it’s a bit of a fluke (there is LeBron James on one side, on the other the anomaly of a one-time salary cap spike allowed an NBA Finalist add Durant, neither of those are going to be repeatable).

Hopefully, we at least get a dramatic and interesting Finals. With all the key players healthy. We deserve that.

Just don’t expect Kevin Durant to care.

Report: Last Summer Celtics GM Danny Ainge was willing to trade Isaiah Thomas for a lottery pick

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Last NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics used the No. 3 pick (via Brooklyn) to pick up Jaylen Brown, an athletic wing who showed promise as this past season wore on. He was the first of Boston’s three first-round picks.

But Danny Ainge wanted a second lottery pick and everyone was on the table — including Isaiah Thomas, who went on to have an All-NBA season, according to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, speaking to the legendary reporter Bob Ryan on on Ryan’s podcast (hat tip CSNNE.com).

“Before the draft last year, Danny was trying to get two picks, not just Jaylen Brown,” MacMullan told Ryan. “He was on the phone with everybody from coast to coast, and he was offering everybody. That includes Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas, and anything else they needed to get where he wanted to go. There were no untouchables on that team last year.”

Thomas went on to have a monster season, averaging 28.9 points per game and leading the Celtics to the No. 1 overall seed (unfortunately, Thomas is now out for the remainder of the playoffs). That effort landed Thomas on the All-NBA second team. To be fair, to get Ainge (or Smart) would have required a very high pick, something the Celtics would not land.

MacMullan went on to say she thinks Al Horford is the only untouchable on the Boston roster this summer.

GMs do this with just about everybody — there are only a handful of true untouchables in the league. Teams gauge the market value guys they would almost never trade just to know what that market is and what other teams think. There likely was a little of that going on here — unless someone came in with a Godfather offer Thomas was staying put.

Now the Celtics have the No. 1 pick in this June’s draft (thanks again Brooklyn) and, once they take Markelle Fultz, they have some real decisions to make about Thomas, who will be a free agent in 2018 at age 29. How long a contract is Boston willing to give Thomas at that age (Thomas likely gets max money or something close)? Thomas is a fantastic player and a fan favorite, but that is not going to secure his long-term future in Boston.

Phil Jackson meets with Kristaps Porzingis’ brother/agent, still huge gap between sides

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Kristaps Porzingis skipped out on his exit interview with the Knicks, sending a message that he was not happy with the direction/management of the organization.

That Phil Jackson and GM Steve Mills didn’t show up at Porzingis’ house, or fly to Latvia, to have a face-to-face with the young player, express their frustration and hear his concerns, and try to bridge the gap with the face and future of the franchise was a mistake.

Finally, Jackson has sat down with Janis Porzingis — Kristaps brother and agent, himself a former pro basketball player in Europe — but that didn’t solve things, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

However, the lengthy sit-down in New York accomplished very little to bridge the chasm as Jackson remained steadfast in his ways and direction, according to a team source…

Both Jackson and Janis spoke around these issues to the media prior to their meeting, with the latter telling ESPN that Kristaps wants to remain in New York but also desires “for the Knicks to create an environment where he can develop and grow as a player and win.”

Apparently Porzingis can’t do much about the future, either, with Jackson unrelenting in his philosophies while aiming to increase his influence over the coaching staff. According to sources, one of Jackson’s objectives is to tailor the workouts and training sessions around learning the triangle offense.

Jackson sees the triangle as the Knicks culture, and his personal legacy to the franchise. When he walks away in a couple of years (he has two left on his contract), he wants this style of play to be something ingrained in the Knicks and at the core of who they are. The fact he has a coach who doesn’t know how to teach the triangle and that players aren’t thrilled about it seems lost on him.

This summer Jackson needs to get more talent on the roster, and not just with stop-gap players like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — there needs to be a long-term plan to build around Porzingis. The style of play is not the culture — look at how many times have the Spurs switched up their style of play under Gregg Popovich to fit the talent on the roster — and trading Carmelo Anthony is not some cure-all.

That Jackson and Porzingis are not on the same page is a concern, this is the kind of thing that has held the Knicks back for years. Porzingis isn’t going anywhere, he’s still under his rookie deal and next summer the Knicks can and should offer him a max extension. He will outlast Jackson, and Porzingis knows the kind of influence and impact elite players can have on a franchise. Porzingis get it, he and his agent/brother know what a winning franchise looks and feels like, and they know they are not in it.

Spurs show fight, it’s not enough as Warriors cruise to another win 120-108, lead series 3-0

Associated Press
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The Spurs effort cannot be questioned.

Back home in San Antonio the team defended better, role players like Jonathan Simmons stepped up, LaMarcus Aldridge had a strong third quarter, and Manu Ginobili was doing things like this.

“I thought they did a great job, they competed really well, couldn’t ask any more from them competitiveness wise,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game.

It wasn’t enough.

Basketball can be a game of runs and the Warriors are just better at that than anyone.

This game had been tied 49-49 late in the second quarter when the Warriors went on a 12-0 run to open it up. The Spurs tried, but they could never seriously close the gap or threaten again. Then in the middle of the fourth, the Warriors went on another 10-0 run to blow the game wide open.

The Warriors cruised to a 120-108 win to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Game 4, likely the final game of the series, is Monday in San Antonio. Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 33 points and was dominant in the third quarter, while Stephen Curry added 21.

The Warriors are now 11-0 to start the playoffs, tying an NBA record.

The truth of this series is this simple: Since Kawhi Leonard rolled his ankle in Game 1 and had to leave, the Spurs have been outscored by 73 points. He did not play in Game 3, his Game 4 status is unknown (but is Popovich really going to let him play?).

Adding injury to insult, David Lee played a strong two minutes scoring 4 points on 2-of-3 shooting and looking the best he had all series, then he suffered an injury after drawing the and-1 on Draymond Green, and he had to ride in a wheelchair to get back to the locker room.

It was a bit of a strange game. For example, JaVale McGee had 11 of Warriors first 19 points on his way to 16 in the first half to lead the Warriors.

“I thought JaVale was instrumental in us having some kind of impact at the beginning of the game, he was great for us on both ends of the floor,” said Warriors interim coach Mike Brown. “He made plays, otherwise we could have been down big if it wasn’t for his energy.

But San Antonio would not go away, credit to the Spurs who found buckets, got some stops and played the game even. They competed.

Until that first Warriors’ run. Give interim Warriors coach Mike Brown some credit here, Stephen Curry picked up his third foul in the second quarter and Brown left him in. It was right after that the Warriors 12-0 run started. However, Kevin Durant keyed the run with a huge dunk, momentum he carried over to the third quarter.

“Kevin Durant had his way for a stretch there in transition, he really spread the game open,” Popovich said.

A David West corner three had the Warriors up 64-55 at half. LaMarcus Aldridge had a much better third quarter.

Again, it was just not enough.

And the Spurs just do not have enough in this series.