Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics aim to even up their East finals series tonight.
No. 1: Thomas: Celtics not ‘scared’ of Cavs — Given the way the Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, one might think Boston is concerned about its chances in the series. That kind of mentality isn’t allowed, though, not when the Celtics are led by a player with an underdog mentality in Isaiah Thomas. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald has more on Boston’s mentality as Game 2 nears tonight:
LeBron James’ 38-point assault on the Celtics Wednesday night — a veritable layup parade — had Isaiah Thomas thinking in cartoonish terms yesterday.
“We’re not scared of Cleveland. They’re not the Monstars on ‘Space Jam’,” the C’s guard said, referencing the team of intergalactic villains in the 1996 Michael Jordan movie. “They lace up their shoes just like us. They happened to play better than us in Game 1. We just have to protect home court in Game 2.”
That said, some aspects of the NBA, like James dominating against man-to-man coverage, simply are facts of life.
“I guess I’m going to live with him scoring 20 points a night,” said Jae Crowder, part of the huge cast of Celtics who guarded the Cavs star during the Game 1 loss.
“Once you take up space and he beats you by a step, he sprays it to a wide-open shooter,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “There’s a lot of things that sound good in theory. We just have to do our best to mix it up appropriately without overdoing it and do our best to keep him in front. If we want to keep him in front, we don’t want him shooting layups. There were a few where I thought he made great shots, where we actually guarded him pretty well. But at the end of the day, it’s easier said than done. We have to make it as difficult as possible as a group.
“Great players, and LeBron’s the best, make really tough plays that you have to tip your hat and move on,” Stevens said. “There’s going to be moments where you play great on defense and they still make you pay, and LeBron’s not the only one on this team who does that. (Kevin) Love is tremendous, Irving is tremendous. When you review the tape on those things, they don’t feel like the things that get you. The things that get you are rebounds, run-outs, because your margin of error is smaller against a team of this caliber.”
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No. 2: Leonard remains questionable for Game 3 — Facing a 2-0 series deficit to the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs could no doubt use the services of their All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard for Game 3. Leonard, who was named to the All-NBA first team yesterday, remains questionable for Saturday’s game as he recovers from his ankle injury. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com has more:
The availability of Spurs star forward Kawhi Leonard remained in question Thursday for Game 3 of the Western Conference finals as the team took part in its first practice in preparation for Saturday’s matchup against the Golden State Warriors.
Leonard did not participate in Thursday’s workout, but multiple players said they saw the forward at the club’s practice facility.
“He was sitting nicely on the sidelines. It’s going well, as well as it can go,” center Pau Gasol said. “We have a good training staff. He’s working with them and trying to get that ankle right. That’s what I know.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was unavailable for comment on Thursday, said after Game 1 that he anticipated Leonard’s recovery to take longer than when he originally suffered the injury in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals.
“The thing that worries me is that he did it again, the exact same thing,” Popovich said. “So one would logically think maybe it will take longer, but I’m hoping that’s not true and we’ll have him for Game 3.”
The Spurs provided no indication either way Thursday regarding Leonard’s potential return, while his teammates played coy when asked about the situation.
“I haven’t heard anything yet,” power forward LaMarcus Aldridge said.
Shooting guard Danny Green said he spoke to Leonard and point guard Tony Parker, who is out for the playoffs after surgery for a torn quadriceps tendon he sustained in the Spurs’ second-round series against the Houston Rockets.
“He looked good, didn’t talk about it that much,” Green said of Leonard. “I saw Tony also. He was in the building today. He looked good, too. Just asked him how life was, how things were going. He said he’s strengthening and working on some things. He’s taking it a day at a time, each one of those guys.”
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No. 3: Green upset Thompson didn’t make an All-NBA team — At midseason, four members of the Golden State Warriors — Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson — were chosen as All-Stars. At season’s end, though, only three of them (Durant, Curry and Green) were named to the various All-NBA teams. To Green, the snubbing of Thompson is inexcusable, writes Chris Haynes of ESPN.com:
“I think it’s bulls—,” Green said. “When you look around, what did we win? Sixty-seven games or something like that? And we probably just handed teams three or four. You’re talking a possible 70-win season. I think Klay is one of our top three guys, and to not be on an All-NBA team, I think it’s pretty crazy.”
When told of Green’s comments, Thompson simply said “Wow.” As for not making any of the All-NBA teams, Thompson said: “It is what it is.”
Green said he was well aware of who made which teams. He didn’t name names of those who shouldn’t have made it, but he held firmly to the belief that Thompson was snubbed.
“It’s some guys on there as scorers averaging 20 points, and don’t have as near amount of wins that we have,” he said. “So, how can [Klay] be left out? I don’t really understand it. Also, the way Klay can defend, I don’t really understand it. But, I guess they have to find some way to punish us.”
Despite the arrival of Durant last summer, Thompson averaged a career-high 22.3 points and shot 41 percent from 3-point range during the 2016-17 season. He’s also one of the team’s best perimeter defenders.
Curry vouched for his backcourt mate as well.
“He definitely deserved to be on one of those teams,” Curry said. “I know it’s obviously a tough vote every year to figure out who goes where, but that’s a guy that had an amazing season. He was very consistent all year long. He definitely deserved to be in that spot.”
Green’s final takeaway was that winning should be taken into higher consideration.
“Also, what I see amongst these teams is sometimes winning isn’t that important,” he said. “But, I don’t know. It’s really not my opinion, but winning can’t be that important.”
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No. 4: Keeping Hayward job No. 1 for Jazz’s Lindsey — The Utah Jazz found out yesterday that they do boast an All-NBA player on their roster. The surprise in that news, though, was that center Rudy Gobert — and not All-Star forward Gordon Hayward — got the nod. As a likely opt-out and unrestricted free agency looms for Hayward, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey says keeping the young, versatile forward in Salt Lake City is the top job. Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune has more:
“Our biggest step this summer will be player retention,” Lindsey told a group of reporters Thursday, his first public comments since the Jazz’s season ended. “We want to have player retention and then complement the group.”
The Jazz are armed with two first round picks and four draft picks overall, in what Lindsey feels is a pool deep in talent and ability. He has $13 million in cap space he has to use by July 1. He has potentially two first round picks in next year’s draft. The Jazz are in the midst of renovating their home arena and practice facility. And he has an ownership group in the Miller family that has given him the financial freedom to make the moves needed to keep things rolling.
“I’m completely satisfied with the Millers’ commitment to keep the team together” Lindsey said. “We feel the quality of this team was that of a three seed. There were a few more wins left on the table this year that impacted our seeding. But we wanted health to supersede seeding.”
Even with all the Jazz have going for them, is it enough to hold off the Boston Celtics in their reported quest for Hayward?
On Tuesday, Boston won the NBA’s draft lottery and the right to the No. 1 pick, which they can use to acquire another star, such as Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, or to draft someone like Washington point guard Markelle Fultz. On Thursday, Hayward was left off the three All-NBA teams, which means he won’t qualify for the new super max contract, which financially shrinks Utah’s advantage as an incumbent.
Lindsey knows all of this, but maintains his confidence. The Jazz have developed Hayward, and have forged a positive personal and professional relationship with the All-Star forward and his family. And like Boston, the Jazz have a solid basketball argument. Utah was a 50 win team, despite being the most statistically injured team in basketball. With a still-young core, the Jazz feel they can one day challenge the Warriors for the Western Conference crown.
“It goes without saying that every fiber in our collective being wants Gordon back,” Lindsey said.
The Jazz have others who are entering free agency. Point guard George Hill is coming off a solid statistical season that was cut short by a nagging toe injury. Lindsey wants him back, but also knows the market may be robust for a veteran of his caliber.
“George is obviously a good fit,” Lindsey said. “We want to let him rest and recover, and then we want to have open and honest conversations. George is a terrific player and a terrific guy. He’s one of my pride and joys. If he gets a crazy offer somewhere else, we won’t have one poor thought about him. There’s also a very good chance we’re each other’s best option come July.”
Valuable shooting guard Joe Ingles will also be a free agent. But his status is restricted, meaning the Jazz can match any offer, and both sides want to get a deal done.
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No. 5: George’s All-NBA exclusion adds to Pacers’ looming offseason — Much like the Utah Jazz’s Gordon Hayward, the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George was an All-Star, a top scorer in the NBA and one of the best at his position all season long. Yet, also like Hayward, he failed to make an All-NBA team yesterday. That missed accolade adds to what will be a wild offseason for Indiana, writes Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:
Next for George, 27, is a decision on his future.
He will have to determine whether he believes in Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers’ new team president. Pritchard said earlier this month he wants to improve the team’s roster to convince George that the Pacers can contend in the Eastern Conference.
If George is not convinced, he could be traded to another team before he can leave the Pacers as an unrestricted free agent next summer. The teams with the top three picks in next month’s draft — the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers — all made attempts in February to acquire George before the trade deadline. The odds of a possible trade this summer could increase with George not being voted onto an All-NBA team.
On Thursday morning, George replied to a tweet by Bleacher Report which linked to a story where Paul Pierce suggests the Celtics should trade the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. George’s reply didn’t contain any text and was soon deleted, but it fueled more speculation on Twitter from fans.
Pritchard said he met with George for 45 minutes two days after the Pacers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Pritchard came away optimistic that George wanted to remain with Indiana.
Coach Nate McMillan spent Thursday with his coaching staff at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to tour several Indy cars as crews made preparations for the May 28 Indianapolis 500. McMillan did speak to a handful of reporters about the significance of the NBA’s announcement before the All-NBA teams were released.
“We’re comfortable with Paul, whether they list him (as an All-NBA player) or not,” McMillan told the reporters. “He’s an all-pro for us and a great player. Whatever happens, we’ll work with that.”