Are the Celtics on the easiest NBA Finals path ever? Plus, a Lakers coaching search update

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I went to see “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” and there were THIRTY MINUTES OF PREVIEWS! Thirty! How is that legal?

Easier in the East?

Celtics currently cruising to Finals

When it was announced that Donovan Mitchell would miss Game 4, basketball Twitter immediately commented on how easy Boston’s path to the NBA Finals should be. It’s something we’ve said for weeks – maybe even months – about the Celtics as they’ve dominated almost everybody in front of them. Most of us have thought there should be zero reasons – outside of potential injury to Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown – for this team to not make the Finals.

Boston faced a Miami Heat team without Jimmy Butler. Now, it’s facing a Cavaliers team that misses Jarrett Allen and just had to sit Mitchell because of his knee. Also, this is a Cleveland team that gave away the worst t-shirts ever used as promo. Assuming the Celtics take care of business in the next game or two (they beat Cleveland 109-102 last night to move to 3-1 in the series), they will face either a young, inexperienced Pacers team with one of the worst defenses we’ve ever seen, or an extremely banged-up Knicks squad missing at least two starters.

I can’t imagine the Celtics will care how easy their pathway to the Finals is or could be. They also should not care, for the simple fact that you can only play the team in front of you. They’re not supposed to wait for the other team to get healthy and then make it a fair fight. If their stars (beyond Kristaps Porziņģis) got hurt, nobody facing them would feel bad about their absent firepower.

John Hollinger offered up the 1984 Lakers (38-44 Kansas City Kings, 43-39 Dallas Mavericks and 41-41 Phoenix Suns) as a team with an easier path to the Finals than the current Celtics. It’s also fair to wonder if such a meandering path set them up for failure upon facing a very familiar opponent in the Celtics when those Lakers reached the Finals. They lost to Boston in seven games, but those Lakers didn’t have home court for the final game. These current Celtics will.

If they face the Denver Nuggets like we’ve suspected all season long, we can wonder if this stroll through the East properly prepared them for battling Nikola Jokić and Co. As for now, they can play at their own pace, keep their opponents at bay and hope to get Porziņģis back for this final push toward a title. Tatum and Brown will keep the East beyond an arm’s length away, so we’ll see how fate treats Boston if its season is ever truly on the line. We’re a far cry from certain Celtics-favoring fans and media from wanting to change the rules to pick their first-round opponent, when it looked like Boston’s would be those Butler-led Heat.

The Latest From Shams

Lakers’ search takes step forward

As the Lakers begin contacting head coaching candidates and scheduling interviews this week, JJ Redick, James Borrego and Sam Cassell have emerged as the franchise’s initial leading targets, league sources Jovan Buha and me.

And as that gets underway, multiple sources say one person who has become a respected unofficial resource for the Lakers during the process is legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Find out about the candidates, the Lakers’ thinking behind the potential hire and much more in this story from earlier today.

Thunder & Lightning

Dallas had something … but OKC took it away

It’s not often we’re left wondering where Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving were during a game, especially not in the same one. The idea of the Mavericks is to have one of those guys show up and have a big day. If both do, their opponent is likely toast. But when the defense is carrying them and the role players are hitting, Dallas needs more than what we saw last night out of Dončić and Kyrie, especially in the fourth quarter.

Dončić’s numbers in the fourth (six points, seven assists with just one turnover) looked good, but he missed a couple of key free throws, and his body is so banged up that the Mavericks went big stretches of the final period without even running offense through him. Kyrie had two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the final frame, and that was all the the Thunder needed to steal this one. I don’t want to take anything away from OKC because it pulled out the win, but Dallas gave this one away. 

The Thunder went 37 minutes without a bucket in the restricted area but won anyway. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was absurd throughout the game and fourth quarter. He was clutch in every way they needed him to be. And the Mavericks went from winning with defense as P.J. Washington turned into a Robert Horry-Klay Thompson hybrid and closing in on a commanding 3-1 series lead to the Thunder snatching that thing away, evening up this matchup and putting the pressure back on Dallas.

The Mavs had every opportunity to put this inexperienced Thunder team on its heels, but Dallas’ stars just didn’t deliver. Dončić needs to get closer to full health. Otherwise, Dallas may have given away its shot at the conference finals.

Happy AnniKERRsary

Steve Kerr was hired 10 years ago today

After a bit of a surprising firing of Mark Jackson following a successful three-year stint, Golden State was hot after Kerr and Stan Van Gundy for their coaching position. Kerr was already in talks with the Knicks, so the Warriors went after SVG, who then decided to go with Detroit, where he got dual responsibilities between the front office and sidelines. Kerr changed his mind, went to the Warriors, and, four championships later, Golden State has not once looked back on that hiring process.

During his time there, Kerr has amassed a record of 519-274 – a ridiculous 65.4 winning percentage that leads the NBA in that time. That’s also the fifth-highest winning percentage for any coach with at least 650 games. Kerr’s 99-41 playoff record accounts for the highest playoff win percentage ever (.707). And, two years ago, the Warriors won their fourth title in six games against Boston. So … why are online Warriors fans so fed up with Kerr as a coach?

There are a lot of Warriors fans on social media who want to see Kerr fired. They don’t like the offense (Kevin Durant probably agrees). They don’t like the rotations (some of that is on him, some of that is roster construction). They don’t like his management of many young players on the roster (admittedly, the Jonathan Kuminga stuff has been weird). That said, though, there are still just five coaches in league history with more titles than Kerr has. He also signed an extension through the 2025-26 season, so he’s likely here to stay.

His stint has been one of the most fascinating case studies in on-court success versus online perception because, at times, there’s validity to both sides. Regardless, Kerr has been on a historic run of coaching success thanks to his elite stars and great coaching staff. Congratulations on 10 years with the Warriors. Fans will still try to fire you tomorrow.

Bounce Passes

Anthony Edwards is not conceding this series to Denver.

Aaron Gordon was a monster in Game 4. Do the Wolves have an answer?

Screen Game (All times Eastern)

  • Pivotal Game 5, Pt. 1: Pacers-Knicks (8 p.m. TNT). Will New York feel healthier at home?
  • Pivotal Game 5, Pt. 2: Wolves-Nuggets (10:30 p.m. TNT). How likely is it that Minnesota moves to 3-0 in Denver this series? Full schedule here.

(Top photo: Nick Cammett / Getty Images )

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