Deng finds his place in new-look Heat offense

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Luol Deng is not LeBron James and never will be. But now, more than he’s ever been since replacing James at small forward for cheap nba jerseys free shipping the Miami Heat Jerseys, Luol Deng is Luol Deng. And that’s a big reason why the Miami Heat Jerseys have played their best basketball of the last two years over the last couple of months.


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When the Heat signed Deng in the summer of 2014, they didn’t know how well he’d fit in with what they do. They just knew that they needed a competent small forward to replace the four-time MVP.

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Deng wasn’t a square peg in a round hole by any means and his true shooting percentage in 2014-15 (56.1 percent) was a career high. But the Heat played slow and deliberate and weren’t getting the best of their new small forward. And both Deng and the Heat struggled after the All-Star break, when Chris Bosh was lost to a blood clot issue, and Miami fell into the Lottery.

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This season, Deng took another step backward. He shot 42 percent and was averaging less than 10 points per game through mid-January. The Heat continued to play slow and deliberate and their starting lineup, which looked great on paper, struggled offensively.

In the first game after the All-Star break, Bosh (a new blood clot issue), Dwyane Wade (knee soreness) and Hassan Whiteside (suspension) were all out. The Heat were in Atlanta, playing the best defensive team in the Eastern Conference. It looked like a sure loss, but the Heat scored 115 points, led by 31 from Deng. He shot 11-for-17, grabbed 11 rebounds and was a plus-16 in a four-point win.

Deng found himself and the Heat found a new way to play. From then on, they picked up the pace, spread the floor, and played less deliberately. They were the most improved offensive team after the All-Star break, with Deng averaging 15.2 points (on 48 percent shooting) and 8.1 rebounds, up from 10.6 (on 43 percent) and 4.7 before the break. The Heat scored an anemic 99.4 points per 100 possessions and were a minus-118 with Deng on the floor before the break, but scored 111.0 and were a plus-144 with him on the floor after it.

“I’ve always said I’m better on the move,” Deng said Monday, after scoring a game-high 31 points in the Heat’s Game 1 win over the Charlotte Hornets Jerseys. “I’m better using my IQ. I don’t really try to play with the ball much. The way we play now, faster, being able to cut more and run into screens, it just allows me to use my basketball IQ.”

The first possession of the fourth quarter of Game 1 illustrates exactly what Deng is talking about. He started on the right side of the floor, circled around to the left side, came off a pin-down screen from Amar’e Stoudemire, got the ball to Stoudemire in the post, went to screen away, flared to the top of the key, got the ball back, pump-faked a recovering Frank Kaminsky, pulled up for an elbow jumper, drew the foul and hit the shot.

Deng On The Move

Luol Deng’s constant motion through this offensive play allows him to get free for the basket and-one.

Deng’s patience, as well him exercising his player option last summer and stay in Miami, has paid off. He knew he could bring more to the table earlier in his Heat career, but he had to wait his turn and find his spots.

“It was never me not being able to do certain things,” he said. “It was just everybody had to sacrifice. And I think I had a really hard time changing my game. I really wasn’t a spot-up shooter in Chicago.

“From the start, talking to [Heat coach Erik Spoelstra] and [team president Pat Riley], we wanted to find ways to get me moving. But it’s also about the personnel and who’s on the floor. When you got Hall-of-Famers, that’s our strength and that’s what we were using. And even Goran [Dragic] suffered from that. It’s really looking at what’s best for the team and that’s what we were going with.”

Spoelstra knew that both Deng and Dragic would be more comfortable in a more open offense. But Wade and Bosh were the horses that he’s been riding for a long time. So the new guys had to take a backseat.

It took us a while to get to know each other and there were some bumps in the road. Through all of that, we’ve grown a lot closer. And I do lean on him quite a bit now. I really enjoy working with Lu and I enjoy watching him compete.

– Miami Heat Jerseys coach Erik Spoelstra, on Luol Deng

“Lu is somebody who deeply analyzes the game and he’s a task-oriented guy,” Spoelstra said. “So he really wants to do things right and fill a role.

“That group had to play slow, more methodical. What it was was a defensive lineup and he embraced it. Was it exactly what everybody wanted out of that? Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. But then, can you still make an impact to winning. And he’s always been committed to that.”

For Spoelstra, Deng’s play over the last couple of months, as well as the bigger role that he’s taken in the locker room, is a product of a player-coach relationship that took some work, but has flourished with time.

“It took us a while to get to know each other and there were some bumps in the road,” Spoelstra said. “Through all of that, we’ve grown a lot closer. And I do lean on him quite a bit now.

“I really enjoy working with Lu and I enjoy watching him compete. I had a lot of respect for him before. Now, it’s even more. Some of the bumps that we’ve gone through, our relationship has come out better for it.”

Deng will have another decision to make this summer, when he and three other Miami starters are all free agents. He has certainly raised his value with the way he’s played as a small-ball power forward over the last couple of months. More important is that he’s given the Heat a chance to advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“Lu is now being able to show his versatility,” Spoelstra said. “He’s been very successful on playoff teams that were half-court, defensive-oriented, mentally tough teams. He had great success in that kind of style and I think he’s showing his versatility that he can play a different kind of style as well.

“To be able to do that, ultimately, it says that you’re a winning player, to do what’s necessary to adapt and find a way to impact winning. And I think that’s what defines Lu more than anything else.”

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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Thunder serve notice with 38-point smackdown of Mavs

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Dirk Nowitzki caught the ball on the left block, leaned back into the defender, using his body to try to get a sense of the defensive positioning, faked a turn toward the middle and then spun baseline. Nowitzki rose up and flicked a shot impossibly high into the air, which dropped down and … rimmed out. This time, the same fadeaway we’ve seen Dirk drain countless times just would not go down.


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Not that it would have mattered much: That particular miss by the Dallas Mavericks Jerseys forward, with 11:41 remaining in the third quarter, meant the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys retained the whopping 59-33 margin they had at halftime. They would go on to build upon it, at one point taking a 44-point lead before eventually winning 108-70.

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And while Dallas did suffer some bad luck on the offensive end — “They got some good looks that just did not go down,” said OKC coach Billy Donovan — don’t completely discount the defensive effort turned in by the Thunder to start their series against the Mavericks.

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If there were any questions about the Thunder finding their groove in this postseason, OKC answered them with the quickness on Saturday night, scoring the game’s first nine points and never looking back. After one quarter, the Thunder held a 26-11 lead, which was doubly disappointing to Nowitzki, who noted the Mavericks were focused on coming out and competing from the start.

“We know they’re a very good first-quarter team, and we addressed that and wanted to keep the margin small,” Nowitzki said. “We came out and missed a couple shots and had a couple of turnovers, so obviously we got to have a better start to the game. That usually sets us up to be in the game and compete in the game later. We obviously got to address first quarters, which has been an issue for us all season.”

You got to set the tone. Against a good offensive team, we did a great job defensively for 48 minutes, which was great.

– Russell Westbrook on the Thunder’s defensive play

The thing is, it wasn’t just a first-quarter show — it was peak Thunder all night, with Russell Westbrook sprinting downhill and generating pace, Kevin Durant stepping into transition jumpers and drawing fouls on rip moves, Serge Ibaka bothering shots and knocking down 3-pointers, and Enes Kanter providing a double-double off the bench.

While offense has never been a problem for the Thunder, this season their defense has not been elite, as they finished the regular season 12th in defensive rating. But the Thunder held the Mavs to a franchise-low postseason point total, interrupted passing lanes and managed to prevent the Mavs from establishing any flow. OKC finished with 56 rebounds to Dallas’ 23.

“The three days leading up to this game, our guys worked hard to get ready to play,” said Donovan. “It’s only one game, and I think you can get caught up in the emotion of a win or a loss, but you’ve got to try to move forward tomorrow and make some corrections, and get better and improve.”

The Thunder’s stars played abbreviated minutes, saving their legs once the game was out of reach. Still, Durant finished with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Westbrook had 24 points, 11 assists and five boards. Westbrook also posted a plus-39 rating, in 29 minutes of cheap nba throwback jerseys play.

The Thunder may have finished the regular season with 55 wins, but they were metaphorical miles behind the Warriors and Spurs. But on the opening day of the postseason, the Thunder served notice that they can still reach an exclusive level, and sometimes it comes on the defensive end.

“You got to set the tone,” said Westbrook. “Against a good offensive team, we did a great job defensively for 48 minutes, which was great.”

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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Thunder bounce back to regain control of series

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DALLAS — Welcome to the Appetizer First Round, where the whales of the NBA are spending this time snacking on lesser teams and doing their best to rest up and stay healthy for the next round, when the games take on a greater sense of desperation.


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Those who call themselves NBA title contenders are looking the part here in the early going, leaving little room for suspense as they sprinted to commanding leads in their first two games. These blowouts may not make for compelling television, but the half-dozen heavyweights could care less, and even though they won’t admit it, it gives them license to look beyond the minions currently standing in their way.

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That’s how the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys should view the Mavericks, who rank among the weakest playoff teams in terms of personnel, but OKC swallowed a grapefruit in Game 2 and arrived in Dallas all square Thursday. That means this series, which had “broom” written all over it, will drag OKC at least to a fifth game. What an inconvenience.

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Durant Dominant In Game 3

Kevin Durant drops an impressive 34 points in the Thunder’s Game 3 win over Dallas.

That’s the realistic goal for the Cleveland Cavaliers Jerseys, the Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys, the San Antonio Spurs Jerseys and the Golden State Warriors Jerseys, to keep this first round to an extreme minimum, and they’ve done their part so far. They know the road to the NBA Finals will suddenly get very slippery; why waste energy before then? It’s a memo that OKC, a member of the Club Elite, failed to get somehow.

At least the Thunder not-so-gently reminded the Mavericks, once again, that this series can be a mismatch by winning 131-102 Thursday to take a 2-1 series lead. In a face-saving gesture, Kevin Durant rallied from missing 26 shots by scoring 34 points in 37 minutes. Russell Westbrook had 26 points and 15 assists. Enes Kanter 鈥?why isn’t he playing more? 鈥?had 21 points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes. Game 3 never felt or looked compelling, and OKC issued another blowout, their second. They’ve won a pair of games by 38 points and now 29, which strongly suggests the Mavericks are merely in the way, a pile of leaves sitting before the blower.

“Their talent is a significant problem,” admitted Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.

Well, of course.

The Mavericks won Game 2 by a point and only because Durant was historically inaccurate and Steven Adams’ game-winning shot was late by a nanosecond. And even then, it shouldn’t have come down to that for OKC, given the condition of the Mavericks. Chandler Parsons is out for the series. Deron Williams, also injured, might be finished as well. Every important player in the rotation is past his prime, and that includes Dirk Nowitzki. The proud future Hall of Famer who’s unable to carry this team deep into the summer, as he did five years ago. In this sense, the Mavericks have plenty in common with the teams currently staring at the Spurs, Warriors and to an extent, Clippers in the first round.

Westbrook’s Double-Double vs. Mavs

Russell Westbrook goes off for 26 points and 15 assists as the Thunder take Game 3 in Dallas.

Just look at why the first round is lacking sparks: Memphis is suiting up any healthy body it can find, even if that search takes the Grizzlies to the local YMCA, and therefore they don’t stand much of a chance against the Spurs. The depressing Rockets are ready to be disassembled, that’s how out of sync and discombobulated they are. The overachieving Blazers are trying (and failing) to move forward with a pair of guards who’ve lost their jumper.

And you know what? The Mavericks are probably the lesser of the four, at least on paper anyway. Thunder coach Billy Donovan tried to be PC with a Dallas team that took lumps in two games and stole its only win by saying: “We know coming in here it’s going to be a hard fought physical game.”

If the remaining games cheap throwback nba jerseys in this series are “hard fought” as he predicts, then that says the Thunder might not be ready to win an NBA title.

Durant scored 16 of his points in the game’s first 13 minutes and forcefully put his Game 2 misery behind him. He admitted the last two days felt more like two weeks.

“Now I know how fighters feel when they lose the fight and they know the rematch is coming, but a year later.”

Still, he explained why he doesn’t plunge into deep depression over a rare poor outing: “When I go out there and play well, I don’t throw a party for myself. I approach the game the same way, no matter what.”

Game 3 had a few skirmishes involving Raymond Felton, Adams, Andre Roberson and J.J. Barea. At least the pre-game dance routine featuring Westbrook and Cameron Payne went on without a hitch or a photobomb by Charlie Villanueva. Sensing the obvious talent difference between them and the Thunder, and perhaps feeling that this series is getting out of hand, the Mavericks did what desperate teams often do and turned physical. At this point, the only way the Thunder can come undone is by losing their cool.

Tempers Flare In Dallas

Steven Adams and Raymond Felton get tangled up and two technical fouls are called.

Noting that Dallas used “a lot of gamesmanship,” Donovan said: “I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their composure.”

There’s a game on Saturday in Dallas and, unfortunately for the Thunder, another in OKC. It would be in the Thunder’s best interest to keep their foot on the pedal and their fingers around the throats and press their way to a quick and efficient resolution of the first round. That’s what great teams do — they don’t mess around with lesser teams and waste precious energy. In this case, a series win would put OKC in a cage match against the Spurs late next week.

“We do a good job of coming in and do what we do,” said Westbrook.

Well, yes. For the most part. With one noticeable exception in this series. As much as the Thunder would like to clean out the Mavericks, and are poised to do so, they can’t use a broom.

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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Warriors eye history

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SAN ANTONIO — History comes in moments, one snippet at a time.

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Like the scene at the end of the third quarter when Steph Curry held the ball one full tick past the expiring clock and let fly with a long, arcing rainbow from a step past the 3-point line at the opposite end of the court, watched it splash into the bottom of the net, then stood there and smiled anyway.


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Like midway through the final period when Draymond Green kept a possession alive by leaping to save the ball from going into the backcourt, flipping it to Curry, and jumping up and down with a wagging tongue as the most electric shooter of our time 鈥?likely all time 鈥?casually flipped in an 18-foot bank shot over the outstretched arms of two defenders.

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Like that scene just after the final horn sounded when Green and Curry met in an emotional embrace on the court and exchanged words that held a meaning only truly understood by the two of them.

The Warriors won 92-86 on Sunday night to become the first opponent all season to win on the Spurs’ home floor, ended a 33-game regular season losing streak in San Antonio that dated back to Feb. 14, 1997, and, oh yes, tied the legendary, historic Michael Jordan Era Chicago Bulls Jerseys with their 72nd victory.

Curry On Tying Wins Record

Stephen Curry talks with Kristen Ledlow about tying the 1995-96 Bulls 72 wins against the Spurs in San Antonio.

“What does it mean to have 72?” Green said, repeating the question. “We can get to 73.”

That chance arrives Wednesday night at home against Memphis.

History comes in waves, like the relentless sets of breakers that Golden State used to wash over the NBA in a record-setting 24-0 start to the season that planted the flag in the ground and seemed to lift the Warriors up above mere greatness and pushed them on this journey.

All those games and all those nights in all those cities when they took the floor feeling and knowing and playing like they were truly superior to the guys in the other uniforms and never let themselves forget that.

All those other nights when maybe they weren’t at their physical or mental peak and had to somehow find a way to get it done. Like just 24 hour earlier in Memphis when it took digging down deep in the final seconds to pull out a victory over an outmanned bunch of Grizzlies to keep the quest alive.

We put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

– Stephen Curry

If these same two teams meet again in six weeks in the Western Conference finals, this game will mean nothing then. But that doesn’t make it mean nothing today.

“Obviously, we’re in the moment, enjoying the ride and the goal is to win a championship,” said Curry after scoring 37 points. “That’s what we’re playing for. But we put ourselves in a great position to end the season with a win and do something that no team has done in history, so that’s an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s kind of hard to step outside the locker room and understand the spotlight that comes with it or just the hoopla because we come out every night trying to win. But when you think about it, I guess, perspective, only two teams have done what we’ve done so far and hopefully Wednesday we can finish that off. It’s unbelievable.”

Despite the offer, even the wish from coach Steve Kerr, that the Warriors regulars might choose to rest up for the fast approaching playoffs, there was never a question that any of them would sit with their feet up.

“I tried to do it with the way I played and obviously the decision on resting or not was a pretty easy decision for me,” Curry said. “I’m not nursing any injuries, I don’t think putting myself in a position to be a step slow come the playoffs. So why not go out and take advantage of an opportunity that may never come again?”

Kerr, of course, is the link, having played for 20 years ago for the 72-10 Bulls.

Analysis: Warriors Tie Bulls with 72 Wins

NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow and Steve Smith Jerseys break down the Warriors keys to win and the Spurs offensive struggles.

History comes in memories.

“I thought as a player it seemed like a bigger deal because the players talk about it, think about it,” Kerr said. “We never talked about it as a staff here this year. It’s really a players’ reward, a players’ honor, a players’ record. They’re the ones that go out and play. It probably meant more to me back then personally. But to see the look on these guys faces knowing that they have a chance to break the record and at least they tied it, they’re pretty excited and that’s what’s great about coaching, when you see your team smiling and happy.”

Kerr expected to hear from at least a few of his old Chicago teammates.

“Jud Buechler will call me to congratulate me,” he said. “That’s my guy. Luc Longley will have some snarky joke for me. And everybody discount nba jerseys else will just mutter expletives under their breath and leave me alone.”

Especially Scottie Pippen, who has famously pronounced that the Bulls would have swept the Warriors 4-0 in a playoff series.

“With Pip coming out and saying what he said, that’s cool,” Green said with a smile and a shrug. “We respect those guys. We got one of them in our locker room.

“Mike told me at All-Star: ‘Go get the record. If you don’t win this record, I’m gonna be hot and I’m blaming you.’ We’re almost there.

I don’t know what the emotions are gonna be, but I know we’ll be ready.

– Draymond Green on Wednesday’s finale against the Grizzlies

“I remember watching them at four, five, six years old. But to go back and watch them now and understand what’s really going on, that’s special.

“It’s crazy. When you sit and think that there’s six-year-old Draymond thinking that he knows what he’s looking at but really don’t have a clue. Then to think that there’s a 13-year-old Draymond who’s watching Kobe Bryant and like, ‘Man, that’s my favorite player and I’m star-struck by him.’ Then to one day come in this league maybe [somebody will] have the same affection about us is a blessing and I don’t take it for granted. That’s what it’s all about. To continue to pave the way for younger guys like older guys did for us and leave the game in better standing than it was when you go there.”

Curry was a kid who got a behind-the-scenes look at those famous Bulls as the son of ex-player Dell Curry growing up in the NBA.

“They were synonymous with winning and championship and that word elite,” Curry said. “I do remember going to the Charlotte Hornets Jerseys’ Coliseum and watching my dad play and you knew when the Bulls were town, that was a game you tried not to miss, no matter what my parents restrictions where on going to games on school nights. You tried not to miss the show.

“I remember as a kid being in the back, in the tunnel, hoping to cross paths with Jordan, Pippen, (Dennis) Rodman and Coach Kerr. That was just something that was a special time as a kid. … You knew what it meant when they were in town and playing.”

Now these Warriors are the 21st century Bulls. Now they are the show and you know what it means when they come to town to play. Now they have their chance to take a step above those Bulls on Wednesday night.

“I don’t know what the emotions are gonna be, but I know we’ll be ready,” Green said. “It’s gonna be a great game for us to be in front of our fans with the opportunity to clinch the best record of all time. To bring that back to Oakland? To bring that back to the Bay? It’s special. And we got the opportunity.”

History comes to be embraced.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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Clippers’ Crawford named Kia NBA Sixth Man of Year

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NEW YORK — The Los Angeles Clippers’ Jamal Crawford is the winner of the 2015-16 Kia NBA Sixth Man Award for his contributions in a reserve role, the NBA announced today. He becomes the first player to earn the honor three times. The 36-year-old Crawford also breaks his own record, set two years ago, as the oldest winner.


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Crawford amassed 51 first-place votes and 341 total points from a panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. The Golden State Warriors’ Andre Iguodala finished second with 288 points (33 first-place votes), and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Enes Kanter was third with 182 points (19 first-place votes).

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Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote. To be eligible for the award, players had to have come off the bench in more games than they started.

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Crawford came off the bench in 74 of his 79 appearances and averaged 14.2 points and 2.3 assists in 26.9 minutes in all games, helping the Clippers (53-29) post their fourth straight 50-win season. He recorded 33 games with 15 or more points off the bench, third most in the NBA behind the Denver Nuggets’ Will Barton (38) and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson (36). As a starter, Crawford scored at least 30 points in four of five games. Crawford also ranked second in the NBA in free throw percentage (90.4).

A 16-year veteran, Crawford previously won the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award in 2009-2010 with the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys and in 2013-14 with the Clippers. When Crawford was honored for the first time as a Clipper, he joined Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as the only two-time winners. Crawford is the cheap custom basketball jerseys only player to win the award with multiple teams.


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Jamal Crawford | L.A. Clippers | 51 | 23 | 17 | 341

Andre Iguodala | Golden State Warriors | 33 | 35 | 18 | 288

Enes Kanter | Oklahoma City Thunder | 19 | 20 | 27 | 182

Will Barton | Denver Nuggets | 15 | 21 | 20 | 158

Evan Turner | Boston Celtics Jerseys | 3 | 7 | 10 | 46

Ryan Anderson | New Orleans Pelicans | 4 | 6 | 5 | 43

Jeremy Lin | Charlotte Hornets Jerseys | 1 | 6 | 7 | 30

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J.J. Barea | Dallas Mavericks | 0 | 1 | 2 | 5

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Stevens’ lineup change gives Celtics new life in win

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BOSTON — Was this a last stand — or a breakthrough that could pull the young Celtics back into the series?

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They had lost six straight postseason games that began with last year’s sweeping by the Cavaliers and culminated in a horrid Game 2 showing at Atlanta that was essentially decided in the opening four minutes. Coach Brad Stevens responded with two bold adjustments that led to 42 efficient points from Isaiah Thomas and an edgy 111-103 win over the Hawks in Game 3 Friday.


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Now the question becomes whether the Celtics can expect more of the same Sunday in Game 4.

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“We’ve just got to be mentally smarter and more disciplined,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer. “And I think we will do that going forward.”

The decision by Stevens to start Evan Turner at point guard (in place of Marcus Smart) was designed to play Thomas off the ball. In a run of six playoff losses, Boston’s All-Star point guard had been shooting an uncharacteristic 33.3 percent overall and 23.5 percent from the 3-point line.

“He did a lot of what he did all year in the first two games — it was just everybody was at the rim to challenge him,” said Stevens. “We made a couple shots and then we got some movement before the drive, which loosens it up a little bit.”

Thomas was able to exploit the space like a running back attacking via pitch-outs and screen passes. He was 12-for-24 overall while making five of 12 from the arc. Most impressive was his performance (13-for-15) at the free throw line, where playoff games are so often won.

“I think he earned them,” said Budenholzer. “That’s a big area of concern. The 3s, some of them were high difficulty, contested.”

Stevens’ parallel decision, replacing Jared Sullinger with Jonas Jerebko, created more room for Thomas. Jerebko’s energy instantly transformed the Celtics from victims into attackers. His 11 points, 12 rebounds and four assists were earned almost entirely while on the move, beginning with his over-the-top tip-in in the opening minute: When a midrange jumper by Thomas ricocheted and popped up from the rim like the cork out of a champagne bottle, Jerebko was rising up high to slam it back down the throat.

Just like that, Boston’s offense had been liberated. Jerebko was up faking from the 3-point line to create open shots and drives for himself, and even a behind-the-back assist that found Terry Rozier for a corner 3-pointer. Thomas was finishing a corner 3 of his own in transition, like a mini-me of Ray Allen. The Celtics surged ahead 37-20 at the end of the period and were up by 20 in the second — which in some way was worrisome to Stevens.

“I knew we were going to compete tonight,” Stevens said. “I was just worried that we were going to run the first lap of the mile too fast and not have anything at the end of the day. But we did both. It was good.”

I was just in attack mode. I was trying to do whatever it takes to win this game, and my teammates kept feeding me and putting me in the right spots.

– Boston’s Isaiah Thomas

He was right to be concerned, and relieved for his faith to be rewarded. For all of their progression since the arrival of Thomas 14 months ago, the Celtics are in over their heads in this series. Virtually all of the Hawks’ key performers — apart from Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, who each had 20 points — are into their prime years. The only Celtic scoring leader of whom the same can be said is 27 year old Turner; Thomas at 26 is just beginning to realize his potential. The Celtics are still under construction, with team president Danny Ainge looking to make big moves this summer, whereas the Hawks are meant to win now.

And so it was little surprise to anyone — especially the Hawks themselves — that they trimmed the deficit to 12 points by halftime. Next, they withstood another (albeit briefer) half-opening burst by Boston before embarking on their own extended 33-13 run. With 1:21 left in the quarter, Dennis Schroder drove around Sullinger like an alpine skier skirting a gate to earn a three-point play that put Atlanta ahead 78-77.

The Celtics went back ahead for good (98-96) on a pull-up jumper from Turner midway through the fourth. They withstood two atrocious turnovers by Turner down the stretch as Jerebko (vs. Bazemore) and Smart (vs. Horford) produced key blocks before Thomas hit a deep 3-pointer with 1:53 left to stretch the lead out to 108-101.

“I was just in attack mode,” said Thomas, who joined a Hall-of-Fame list of Celtics who had scored 40 or more in the playoffs. “I was trying to do whatever it takes to win this game, and my teammates kept feeding me and putting me in the right spots.”

For much of this night Thomas found himself in a duel with Schroder, who in transition arrives to the basket like water down a drain. As they ran upcourt together after a successful Schroder drive, Thomas turned and clubbed Schroder in the head. The referees missed it, but the cameras caught it — though Thomas insisted he was not worried about being suspended for Game 4.

“I’m not,” he said, “because I didn’t mean to hit him in the head. He got mad. We were talking. It’s playoff basketball — I’m not going to back down from anybody, and he knows that.”

Just as surely, Thomas knows that Atlanta is likely to conjure up a reply of their own. In spite of Thomas’s phenomenal performance, the Hawks — driven by 23 points from Jeff Teague — almost recovered amid low-key production from Al Horford and Paul Millsap, who combined for 16 points on 7 for 19 shooting. If Atlanta’s two big men return to form, will the Celtics be able to rise to yet another gear? Or have they maxed nba cheap jerseys out this roster of young talents who cannot expect to fulfill their potential over these next few days?

Ian Thomsen has covered the NBA since 2000. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

As usual, Clippers’ Crawford a steady source of reserve power

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It was during a casual conversation last summer after a pro-am game in Seattle, his hometown, when Jamal Crawford listed his goals for the upcoming season. A championship, obviously. He doesn’t have one of those.

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And then, the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award. Obviously. Even though he has a pair of those already.


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“You think I’ll have a chance?” he asked. “Again?”

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Crawford asked the question, not because he didn’t think he could bring the goods to win the award — at age 36 he’s still whip-sharp with the jumper — but whether voters might be biased. After all, they may develop Crawford fatigue and search for a fresh face.

Clippers vs. Hawks

Jamal Crawford scores 21 points, DeAndre Jordan adds 13 with 19 boards and the Clippers stave off the Hawks, nba jerseys cheap authentic 85-83.

It appears Crawford’s fears might have been unfounded, because once again he’s a strong contender (and at the very least in the conversation) for an award that might need to be named after him someday. That’s because no one who comes to mind when you think of a super sub — Kevin McHale, Manu Ginobili, Vinnie Johnson — has won it three times. This season, though, Crawford is our pick to win the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award.

“I have such great respect for the award, which obviously means a lot for me,” Crawford said. “I don’t take it for granted. I think by being a sixth man, it shows how selfless you are as a player. The first time I was asked to come off the bench, I said `fine, I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team.’ And then I just embraced to role and the pressure that comes with contributing the minute you check into a game.”

Crawford won the award in 2009-10 with the Atlanta Hawks Jerseys and in 2013-14 with the Los Angeles Clippers, and both times his scoring average was higher than it is today. But in terms of importance to his team, maybe 2015-16 rates higher.

Four-Point Play

Jamal Crawford hits the three while getting fouled for the four-point opportunity.

When the Clippers lost Blake Griffin on Dec. 25, Crawford was one of the main reasons they didn’t crumble. Crawford did his part to fill Griffin’s production on offense, upping his scoring average in January (15.6 points) and February (19.5 points) while the Clippers weathered Griffin’s absence. He also leads the team in 4th-quarter points (341).

“I feel comfortable in those situations,” Crawford said. “I’m a sixth man but I can have a starter’s mentality when it comes to taking on a bigger role or an important shot.”

Crawford scored 15 or more points off the bench 26 times since Griffin was lost on Dec. 25, the most of anyone in the NBA during that span. He dropped 32 on OKC on March 31 and became the 30th player in NBA history to score that many at age 36.

Jamal Crawford Drops 32

See highlights from Jamal Crawford’s 32 point performance against the Thunder.

He remains deadly with the crossover dribble, a one-on-one specialist who’s willing and able to get off a shot anywhere on the floor. Crawford can be streaky, but even then he’s dangerous because the defense must show respect at all times. He’s the rare shooter who doesn’t run from the ball after a few misses. He’s shooting 90.4 percent on free throws this season, making him the player you don’t want to foul. And, on occasions, he can perform when pressed into point guard duty.

The value of Crawford was amplified in early April when he took a short-handed team (no Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan or JJ Redick) and scored 30 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with :00.2 seconds left in overtime, against a Utah Jazz Jerseys team fighting for its playoff life.

Crawford Game Winner

Jamal Crawford hits the game winning 3-pointer in overtime.

It got the attention of a now-healthy Griffin, who missed that game vs. Utah.

Here are some others who deserve mention, however:

Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys — There aren’t many more offensively-blessed big men in basketball than Kanter, who brings soft hands, a feathery touch and a tap dancer’s footwork in the post. He ranks 20th in the NBA in points per 36 minutes (21.8) and proved to be a reliable rebounder as well. Defensive limitations doomed him to a life as a sixth man, although his role could change in the postseason.

Will Barton, Denver Nuggets Jerseys — A breakout season happened because Barton exercised better shot selection, which in turn made him more efficient. But it wasn’t just scoring that put Barton in elite sixth man company. For someone so slender, Barton’s 5.9 rebounds per game was an unexpected bonus.

Evan Turner, Boston Celtics Jerseys — What a strange journey for the former No. 2 pick in the 2010 Draft, to go from disappointment in Philadelphia to flourishing in Boston. Turner isn’t your typical sixth man, because scoring off the bench isn’t always what he brings. Taking advantage of his multiple skill set, Turner has given the Celtics a boost with passing, rebounding and contributions from the swing positions.

Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors — His contributions haven’t been box score friendly this season, and that’s hardly a reflection of the value Iguodala has continued to give the defending champs. Defense, decision making and leadership bailed out Iggy in what was otherwise a mild season in terms of raw stats.

Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks Jerseys — He’s eighth among point guards in assists per 36 minutes and in a season where starter Jeff Teague has struggled, Schroder gave the Hawks a needed lift. His decision making remains a work in progress (he’s third on the team in turnovers), but growth has been apparent. And the Hawks value his fearlessness and desire to take big shots, which is rare among young sixth men.

Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings — He’s the embodiment of a change-of-pace point guard, and after four previous NBA stops as a part-time starter, Collison has perhaps found a home in Sacramento. He has never shot better in his career (48.6 percent), recently went 14 straight games with double-digit points. All season long, he proved to be an effective backup to Rajon Rondo, the league assist leader. With Rondo facing free agency, Collison could return to the starting lineup next season.


Editor’s note: As the 2015-16 season winds down,’s writers give their picks for the various end-of-season awards.

Below is our schedule of stories:

April 5: Executive of the Year

April 7: Coach of the Year

April 11: Kia Most Improved Player

April 12: Kia Sixth Man of the Year

April 13: Kia Rookie of the Year

April 14: Kia Defensive Player of the Year

April 15: Kia MVP


Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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