Tagged in: NBA FInals

New Orleans Pelicans officially name Willie Green as next head coach

The New Orleans Pelicans officially named Willie Green as their next head coach Thursday.

Green is coming off a stint as an assistant with the Phoenix Suns, who just made a run to the NBA Finals, which delayed the timing of the Pelicans’ announcement.

“After an extensive and collaborative search, Willie stood out among an impressive group of candidates as the best person to lead our team moving forward,” Pelicans governor Gayle Benson said in a statement.

“We are very happy to welcome Willie as our new head coach and we look forward to working with him to guide our team on the court as we work towards bringing a championship to New Orleans.”

Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin called Green, a 12-year NBA veteran, one of the “most respected assistant coaches in the NBA.”

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“He brings a vast amount of basketball knowledge and experience to our team as both a coach and former player, along with exceptional leadership qualities and an innate ability to connect with players, staff and fans alike,” Griffin said in a statement.

Green spent three seasons as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors before joining Phoenix.

“I want to thank Mrs. Benson, David Griffin, and the entire Pelicans organization for having faith in me to lead this talented group of players moving forward,” Green said. “It’s a blessing and an honor to get this opportunity in a special place like New Orleans. I look forward to getting to work and immersing myself and my family into the local community.”

As a player, Green made the playoffs in seven of his 12 seasons, including the lone year in New Orleans (2010-11), one of just seven playoff trips the team has made in franchise history.

That season, Green made it on a team coached by Monty Williams and led by point guard Chris Paul. Now the Pelicans are hiring Green away from a Suns team led by Williams and Paul.

Green replaces Stan Van Gundy, who mutually agreed to leave the Pelicans after just one campaign. The Pelicans went 31-41 last season, a disappointing result after the season started with playoff aspirations.

In the end, New Orleans didn’t even make the Western Conference play-in. At 39, Green becomes the third-youngest coach in the NBA behind Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault and Memphis’ Taylor Jenkins.

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Khris Middleton lifts Milwaukee Bucks past Atlanta Hawks, into NBA Finals

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 — and they secured the final wins of the series without star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee defeated the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 on Saturday behind 32 points from Khris Middleton. Jrue Holiday added 27 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists.

After the final buzzer sounded and the Bucks swarmed the center of the court, putting on caps and T-shirts that announced them as Eastern Conference champions, players hugged each other and laughed. Coaches embraced.

“It feels awesome,” Holiday said. “I’m still kind of on this high, but I’m going to the Finals. It’s cool to think as a little kid, this is what you watch the playoffs for. This is all the moments that I felt as a little kid watching TV. I lived them and went through them and now I get to go to the Finals and see what this is about.”

Antetokounmpo, who has been out since injuring his knee in the third quarter of Game 4 when he landed awkwardly after contesting an alley-oop, was in the middle of it all — a triumphant fist raised in the air.

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Thursday marked the end of a slew of Milwaukee playoff runs that were cut short or went awry. In the 2019 postseason, the Bucks swept the Detroit Pistons, defeated the Boston Celtics in five games and built a 2-0 lead versus the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Then, after losing back-to-back games only once during the entire regular season, the Bucks lost four consecutive games to the Raptors and were eliminated.

Last season in the NBA’s bubble, the Bucks fizzled to a disappointing end in the playoffs.

Milwaukee earned the No. 1 seed and defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. But Antetokounmpo sprained his ankle in Game 3 of the team’s series against the Miami Heat.

He gave it a go in Game 4, but re-sprained his ankle in that game and was unable to play in Game 5, when Milwaukee was eliminated. Back then, Antetokounmpo said that “nobody was going to be happy” with the outcome of Milwaukee’s 2019-20 playoff run. He said he hoped the Bucks could learn from that loss.

It appears they did — and those losses, Middleton said, made their success this season that much better.

“It’s been a long journey,” Middleton said. “But it’s been a great journey. It’s been worth it. After winning 15 games in our first year here and seven years not making the playoffs, to the last two years thinking we had a chance and just didn’t do enough and now we’re here. This is what we’ve worked for.”

The Bucks avenged last season’s loss and rolled the Heat in four matches in the first round. Midway through that series, starting guard Donte DiVincenzo injured his ankle. He had season-ending surgery on a ligament in his left ankle in June and P.J. Tucker slid into a starting role.

Still, Milwaukee kept rolling. After falling down 3-2 in a wild series versus the betting title favorite Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks outlasted them in a seven-game series. And after losing at home for the first time in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bucks battled back, including winning two games without Antetokounmpo.

All the while, Antetokounmpo stood — almost never sitting down — on the sidelines in black shorts and a Bucks warm-up shirt. A protective sleeve swaddled his hyperextended left knee. But even injured and unable to play, Antetokounmpo was in the middle of the celebration. His longest hug was reserved for his brother and teammate, Thanasis.

“There’s a bittersweetness to him not being able to play these last two games,” Budenholzer said. “Khris and Giannis are the key to this team, to this organization. To have the opportunity to coach them and come here three years ago and try to build something special, those two guys are special, and it starts with them.”

And while there has been no public decision on whether or not Antetokounmpo will be available to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, one thing is certain: The Bucks are sitting atop a hill that Antetokounmpo has envisioned summiting for years.

Now, they have just one more leg to complete. “We ain’t did nothing yet,” Tucker said.

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Phoenix Suns take 3-1 series lead, inspired to get Chris Paul first trip to NBA Finals

Just one victory away from the NBA Finals, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul said he will not allow himself to consider quite yet what it will be like to compete on basketball’s biggest stage for the first time in his 16-year career.

“Not until the job is done. Not until the job is done,” Paul said after the Suns’ gritty 84-80 win over the LA Clippers on Saturday to go up 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. “We can talk about all that then, but right now, it’s just laser focus.

“Three wins don’t win the series, so right now, we did what we came here to do. We wanted to get one of these, and now we got to stay focused and be ready to go back to our crowd.”

Paul, of course, has been here before. In 2018, his Houston Rockets were up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals versus the Golden State Warriors, before the defending champions stormed back to win the final two games, with Paul hobbled by a hamstring injury.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Paul said, looking back on the disappointment from three years ago. “Don’t dwell on things, you always remember, but I’m here now, excited about this opportunity, and all I can worry about right now is Game 5.”

Paul guided Phoenix to its victory in Game 4, playing all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, when he scored seven of his 18 points and dished out two of his seven assists, despite struggling to shoot the ball.

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Paul was 1-for-7 from the field in the fourth — and just 6-for-22 for the game — though he did go 5-for-6 from the free throw line in the closing period.

“I was mad I missed [midrange shots] that could have put us up by five or seven, but it’s so crazy when I went to the free throw line I thought about my son,” Paul, 36, said of his trip to the stripe with 3.9 seconds remaining, and the Suns up by two, when he split the pair of attempts. “I talk to my son all the time about the importance of shooting free throws.

“I seriously went to the free throw line and I was like, ‘How the hell I’m going to tell him to stay poised if I don’t do it my damn self?'”

It would appear Paul’s son is learning from his dad just fine, judging by how Paul’s younger teammates rave about the example he is setting for them.

Deandre Ayton, who lived up to his “DominAyton” nickname with 19 points, 22 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in Game 4, exuded praise for the man who is 14 years his senior.

“I love CP, man,” said Ayton, 22. “That’s really the only teammate that really pushed me. Like big-bro-type push.

“I think he was the best thing that happened to my career. I can say that every day.”

Ayton said he would like to repay Paul’s investment in him by helping Phoenix to at least one more win this postseason so Paul can finally get a taste of the Finals.

“I’m going to try my best,” Ayton said. “I’m going to try my best. … I know how it is as an older player and being in the league and stuff like that. So, when you have an opportunity like this, you can’t take it for granted. And he let us know. He let us know, and we know the task at hand.”

Devin Booker, who ditched the face mask protecting his broken nose to score a team-high 25 points before fouling out, said that he grew up watching Paul.

“I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, and I’ve learned so much from him this year, and I always talk about off the court how he carries himself, and he’s just a true professional at every level at all times,” Booker, 24, said. “I have a lot of respect for him as a man, not even as a basketball player, just understanding how bad he wants this and how much time he’s put into it … 16 years, that’s a long time.

“We know how bad he wants it. … We definitely have his back.”

Suns coach Monty Williams, who coached Paul in the playoffs when they were both with New Orleans a decade ago, gave him a compliment of the highest order when asked how he feels about Paul controlling the action down the stretch.

“He’s not afraid of those moments,” Williams said. “It’s all about winning for Chris.” One more win. One more win and Paul will experience winning in a way he never has before.

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NBA to approve plan for 22 team return

The NBA’s Board of Governors on Thursday is expected to approve the league’s plan for a 22-team return in Orlando, ESPN reported.

The conference call is slated to take place at 12:30 p.m. ET. The NBA’s Board of Governors requires a three-fourths passage of the 30 teams on a plan.

The return of basketball would start July 31 under the proposal, with the last possible date for Game 7 of the NBA Finals being Oct. 12, ESPN reported.

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, each of the 22 teams will play eight regular-season games for seeding purposes for the playoffs.

The 16 teams now in postseason position will be joined by the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference and the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference.

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The Pelicans (28-36), Kings (28-36) and Trail Blazers (29-37) sit 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) in the Western Conference. The Spurs (27-36) are four in back of the Grizzlies, while the Suns (26-39) are six back.

The Wizards (24-40) reside six games behind the seventh-place Brooklyn Nets (30-34) and 5 1/2 behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic (30-35).

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, “If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer matches behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth.”

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Nets and Magic currently occupy playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers join the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Grizzlies in residing in playoff position in the Western Conference. The NBA saw play stopped on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.

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