End of LeBron? — Blazers vs. Nuggets — Celtics shakeup

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2021

  The Opening Tip

  • The Celtics made some drastic changes this morning. More on them in section four. 
  • Blazers vs. Nuggets last night was an instant classic. 
  • Who can realistically beat the Nets?

Tonight's playoff games

1. The Dead LeBron Decades

Whenever I find my finger hovering over the big red “LEBRON IS DONE” button that exists in a special little nook inside my brain, I force myself to reread this Grantland piece by Bryan Curtis entitled “The Dead Ball Century.” It’s purpose is to remind the “baseball is dead” crew that their thought is hardly original.

Take this quote from … 1868: “Somehow or other, they don’t play ball nowadays as they used to some eight or ten years ago.” 153 years later, we still have the ego to think a high whiff rate and a few .190 averages can tank our stupid, beloved pastime.

On a smaller scale, the 2010s, and now the 2020s, have been “The Dead LeBron Decades.” 

  • He was done in 2011. 
  • He was done in 2012 against the Celtics. 
  • He was in 2014. 
  • He was done in 2015. 
  • He was done in 2017 and ‘18, rendered obsolete by the Warriors. 
  • He was definitely done in 2019. 

Now … in 2021, after a 30-point loss last night to the Suns in Game 5 without Anthony Davis, he must be done.

He’s in a 3-2 hole against a two-seed with an All-Star and an all-time great; he’s a game away from losing his first first-round series; he’s lost two first-round games in a row for the first time ever; and he needs to win Game 6 just to earn a Game 7 on the road.

Every piece of logic tells you this year he’ll fail to reach the NBA Finals in a year he made the postseason for the first time since 2010.

Still, you shouldn’t believe it until you see it.

-- SE

2. Daily GIFNo one should be able to spin into a stepback and make a 3-pointer

This shot happened last night in an instant classic double-overtime game between the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, which Denver won, 147-140, to take a 3-2 series lead.

It was, though, only one of many great moments: 

  • Lillard, who finished with 55 points on 24 shots and a playoff record 12 made 3-pointers in 52 minutes, also hit the game-tying 3 to send the game to overtime and banked in a 3 from near the logo in double-OT.
  • Nikola Jokic, who had 38 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, had this unbelievable float pass in double-OT.  
  • Austin Rivers, who played 47 minutes for the Nuggets, thanked God after, finally, a Lillard miss. 

Also: Lillard’s 55-point game in a loss renewed the #FreeDame movement on Twitter last night. If/when Portland loses, that front office will have existential questions to answer.

3. Trivia time

Only two players have scored 60 or more points in an NBA playoff game. Who are they?

Answers at the bottom.

4. Danny Ainge, presumably last straw’d by Kyrie’s Lucky stomp, retires after 18 years

After a disjointed and uncomfortable season for the Celtics, front office changes in some form seemed inevitable.

They happened this morning.

Via reporting by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi: 

  • Danny Ainge has retired as president of basketball operations, a spot he’s held since 2003. 
  • Brad Stevens will step into Ainge’s role after eight seasons as head coach. He and Ainge will tag-team the hiring of a new one.

Quickly on Ainge: He had the Celtics in the playoffs 15 times in 18 years, crafted their only title-winning team since the 1980s, made six Eastern Conference Finals, two Finals, and coaxed the Nets and 76ers into handing Boston Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. His worst offense over the last few years was trying to win in the moment while hedging for the future. That finally caught up to him this year.

But there was never going to be a standoff between him and his higher ups over job performance. He recognized this season it was time to go, so he did.

Quickly on Stevens: Woj reported that Stevens had been “worn down with coaching since The Bubble.” He seemed to have lost the team this year, as he did in 2019. Three seasons after leading a team without its two best players to Game 7 of the ECFs, he, too, recognized it was time to move on.

[READ: It never really came together for the Celtics]

5. The remaining teams ranked solely by their ability to stop the Nets from reaching their ultimate goal

The Nets mercy-killed the Celtics last night in front of their “home crowd” of 14,993 fans, some of whom were given tickets for free, Tampa Bay Rays style. (They also had to lure fans with a free pregame beer from 5:30 to 6:30 for a 7:30 tip.)

Brooklyn, with its three great stars -- the most likable of which gained 20 pounds at the start of the season to force his way out of Houston -- is now the overwhelming favorite to win the title.

In short, they must be stopped.

Here’s who can do it, ranked from most likely to absolutely no chance: 

  1. The Bucks -- their series starts Saturday. The Nets open as -190 favorites.  
  2. The 76ers -- and that’s with Joel Embiid’s "small meniscus tear." 
  3. The Lakers -- and they might not even make it out of the first round. Oh boy. 
  4. The Clippers -- same. 
  5. The Suns -- a banged up Chris Paul and Devin Booker vs. those three … 
  6. The Jazz -- a fun team, but one of the more milquetoast Western Conference No. 1 seeds in a while. 
  7. The Nuggets -- not true contenders without Jamal Murray. 
  8. The Mavericks -- not true contenders despite Luka Doncic.  
  9. The Trail Blazers -- #FreeDame
  10. The Grizzlies -- only on this list because we technically said “remaining.” 
  11. The Hawks -- same. 
  12. The Wizards -- same.
  13. The Knicks -- same.  

6.  Quick hits

  • Derrick Rose, on Clint Capela’s trash talking ahead of Knicks-Hawks Game 5 tonight: “I’m too old for that shit.”  
  • After beating the Celtics, Kevin Durant went home and fan boy’d about Damian Lillard. 
  • Chuck’s new nickname for Anthony Davis: Anthony “Street Clothes” Davis. 
  • Portland lost in part because CJ McCollum stepped out of bounds down three with 10 seconds left in double-OT. 
  • Dennis Schroder’s line last night: 0 points, 0-for-9 shooting, -17 on the floor.
  • Kia Nurse hit a halfcourt game-winner last night for the Phoenix Mercury.

7.  Reads

  • Rich Paul is transforming the business of basketball [The New Yorker]
  • The Ringer’s mock draft 1.0 [The Ringer]
  • The Clippers looked destined for another early exit. How did they turn it around? [FiveThirtyEight]

Trivia answer:  Michael Jordan (63), Elgin Baylor (61).


That's the buzzer.
Thanks for reading the 279th edition of The Grip.

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