Tuesday, May 1, 2018 

Behind the Boxscore: Boston scores, Raptors/Cavs preview, Shawn Kemp

GOOD MORNING, PEOPLE!

Boston 117, Philadelphia 101 (Celtics lead series 1-0)

Terry Rozier needed the ball, that’s all it’s usually about with basketball players, he needed some space to work and the confirmation that only capacity can provide: Boston’s starting point guard is comfortable.

This isn’t a bit spitter anymore, a ballplayer complete with a 6-3 hardshell case, taken at a spot in the lineup (16th overall in the 2015 draft) that X-Factors typically emerge from, nah man, we’re a starter now. Ascension ‘ere with less to learn from than sitting behind two All-Star point guards for three consecutive years, Rozier’s only here because he’s got to have his own basketball for the last few weeks.

That’s no different than the release Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving felt, and neither of those cats worked up the Celtic ranks, each was acquired to score from the start. Thomas and Irving, somehow MVP candidates, absolutely blossomed in Boston due to the agreeable mix of surrounding talent and the space that says, yeah, call one out at the line of scrimmage if you don’t like what you see in front of you.

Rozier’s work isn’t limited to a deadening three-step drop, that connection ended the second he took the Drew Bledsoe jersey off before Game 1. The 24-year old guard hit seven three-pointers in eight attempts, yet he was also the sort of linebacker that could corral an interception that’d been tipped at the line.

Terry turned it over just twice in the 117-101 win, carrying over a remarkable turnover rate from the regular season, he picked off two steals alongside marks of eight rebounds and six dimes, some of which should have counted as assists.

So he’s not the heady guy, the “good rebounder for a guard” or the Louisville Guy or the athlete that Danny Ainge sees in himself, waiting out his early 20s (as Ainge did) seeking a strong and somewhat sincere role on a good team.

So he’s a starter, a playoff starter perhaps, fine enough to remind the Philadelphia 76ers that they’re currently missing an orthodox, point-guard sized, Lionel Hollins-type.Athletes see options, point guards see the floor.

You can stick good athletes on point guards and get away with it for a stretch, but only the larger ones that boast an understanding of the position will have any continued success at defending the spot. The defender has to know what it means when a point guard’s stomach — his or her literal stomach — turns a certain way.

That’s why Scottie Pippen didn’t look in anyone’s eyes, not all the time at least. Pippen was a so-so high school point guard and LeBron James was always more Magic than Mashburn. Both boast what it takes internally to settle those long limbs and dig in on a player who has had to lead, by determination of their unappealing size, for an entire basketball life.

Philadelphia signed Jerryd Bayless a while ago, it didn’t work out. They coulda used a couchette like that on Monday and as a result Philadelphia’s future will have to wait.

Aron Baynes returned to the starting Celtic center slot that’s done so much for him and Boston, and Joel Embiid didn’t care much — 31 and 13 and five dimes and three turnovers and just two fouls in 35 minutes with a mask. Ben Simmons turned it over seven times but I don’t even know if that’s the problem, Boston ain’t exactly landing planes in transition these days.

It’s the defense that failed Philadelphia, the one that made life so fierce in March and April, the buttress that created the confidence needed to take chances offensively. That confidence, and those dares, that’s what turned Philly into a spectacular contender.

First, though, the defense had to turn them into a really, really good basketball team.

Game 2 on 8:30 PM Eastern on TNT.

TODAY IN PLAYOFF HISTORY

(Game 3, SuperSonics at Lakers, 1995)

We gotta stop calling Shawn Kemp “a beast,” in our tweets and reflections, man I’m sure I’ve done it, too.

Roll the whole thing and remember what he really was, at his best — an elegant performer that often seemed more interested in the expertly-swooped layups that slam-jams. I had just turned 16 when the 1996 NBA Finals hit, red and black over here, and I sure as hell wasn’t scared of Kemp’s dunks — we were sick with the whole package.

Here’s a shot of it from the year before, when Kemp tossed 30 points on the Lakers to take Game 3 of a series they’d lose, a series that subscribers will read about quite a bit this summer in our ongoing Nick Van Exel feature.

SERIES PREVIEW

Toronto vs. Cleveland

One versus four, Cavaliers took two of three in the regular season.
TUE, THU, SAT, MON, WED, FRI, SUN
KD: Cavaliers in six.

If it scans as rote, just understand what we’ve seen: Toronto’s bench is going to kill the Cavaliers.

The reserves are going to destroy Cleveland counterparts on either end, presuming youth executes as instructed, most of these guys should have have a path right through the Cav starters as well. There will be points in this series where you can’t understand why, exactly, this is a series at all.

Then LeBron takes the time to swipe the palm of his shooting hand on the stitch scratches of that that pointy-ass Cav logo, he gets a hop in his step and his eyes rise to meet the brow of whomever he deems most vulnerable at the time.

Sometimes he’ll need a screen, sometimes he won’t, sometimes the entire enterprise was never about him — the ball is going to the corner, or it’s two passes away from getting someone else with that pointy-ass logo some real points. The first good ones that this guy has felt in a while, tip-ins don’t count.

LeBron James is going to be tired in this series, he’s going to show it and he’s going to take possessions off — Tuesday will be Game No. 90. He’ll limit his three-pointers, during close moments at least, and he’s going to really, truly, piss you off with the calls that he develops for himself and for others. Like that guy that got his hockey assist, in a really late call.

We’ve credited Toronto since early winter for its movement. For its spirit and interest in approaching the unrecognizable with the same smiles usually saved for bully-ball bursts off a defensive rebound, or spotless 20-foot turnarounds (points number twenty-seven and twenty-eight).

If that blend of righteousness returns in full, then the Raptors will walk, and this is Toronto’s year. Even if it takes a game to get there, if the Cavaliers duck in time to roll within Game 1, then we’ll allow it. The Raptor release has to return in full, though, LeBron James doesn’t suffer “spurts.”

It will take the length of the Cavaliers’ time in Canada to determine if the Washington series was just a blip for the Raptors — some bad influences on the bus ride to the D.C. field trip — to examine if the team’s regular season fall-shorts were excusable. Tired legs, or 32-year old Kyle Lowry’s realization that hangovers are going to be like this from now on. Regular season shit.

LeBron James doesn’t care about the regular season, he hasn’t since he cynically put all he could into 2010-11, prior to having his 2011-12 personality rebuild rushed, and shortened.

The Raptors swam within its last regular season, closing eyes and diving in before meeting coach Casey at the bottom, legs crossed, pointing out that their eyes had been open the entire time.

LeBron’s already won his way, though, and the Raptors have barely proven that this can sustain.

Game 1 at 8:00 PM Eastern on TNT.

STUFF THAT MADE SENSE AT THE TIME

“James’ CFG-ROVER-act has been in place all season, even during the huge chunks of it that he took off, and it turned up in full on Wednesday’s win – 17 assists and zero turnovers. Nobody wants to disappoint LeBron James in ways that the shooting guards that came before him could never develop, only Magic and Bird’s teammates knew this sort of feeling.

“Somehow in laying waste to the authenticity of an 82-game campaign James has created perhaps the most entertaining regular season run of his career.”March 22.

“Toronto got here through visualization matched with sweat equity, LeBron sends a dap to Rick Adelman each time Kevin Love curls far farther than Donyell Marshall was ever asked to.”March 22.

“The Raptors weren’t out of it and nobody was scared, but the timing was off. Once the timing splits, the confidence takes a hike, and after your certainty hits the bricks, well, you better have a VanVleet to save that ass.”April 4.

“Four mini-LeBrons spinning past the pylons and into that sort of Red Rover Ball that Cleveland thinks is going to win a championship. Well, why the hell not? Let’s call Clarkson over.”April 4.

TUESDAY GAME TWO

New Orleans at Golden State, Warriors lead series 1-0

Confidence turned into something else for the Pelicans in the second quarter on Sunday, something short of security. Worse for these sorts of minds are the hours that follow, reliving that Game 1 horror — it’s a really good thing for Alvin Gentry that we’re doing the next one just a coupla days later.

If the Pelicans have some Warriors defensive fundamentals sussed, as was intimated after Game 1, then NOLA’s executed counters will only bring them to a competitive evening, if you’ll allow, in Golden State’s building.

The champs are that good at home, and every bit of them has already been tested in ways they won’t know about for weeks (if necessary, TBA). San Antonio just gave the Warriors the drill of its lifetime.

This appearance of equivalency, though, could return the sort of brio that made the Pelicans bastards for so long. They’ll have to get stops first.

Game 2 at 10:30 PM Eastern on TNT.

GIRLFRIEND

Today is the first day of May!

Use that time to acknowledge the bullshit you just worked your way through, during the shorter months. The pauses when you gave yourself an excuse to stop, the alertness that you needed for those hours, terms darkening at a rate we won’t know again for months.

If you see a hoop out there, visualize what you could do with it. Not what you’re supposed to do with it, where you could be at by the end of summer, where you shoulda been by now, none of that.

Just try to pinpoint the thing you could toss up there, right now, that would be just as fun as any of those promises.

(More to come.)