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Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to receive Lifetime Achievement Award at 2019 NBA Awards

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Turner and the NBA announced today that basketball icons Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird will be co-recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 NBA Awards presented by Kia.  TNT will televise the third annual NBA Awards live on Monday, June 24 at 9 p.m. ET from Barker Hangar in Los Angeles. The two previous recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award were Bill Russell (2017) and Oscar Robertson (2018).

With their epic rivalry, individual brilliance and team success, Johnson and Bird helped define the modern NBA and elevate the league in the 1980s.  The rivals turned friends both earned three NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, nine All-NBA First Team selections and 12 NBA All-Star nods, along with being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and securing spots among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players.  They were also teammates and co-captains on USA Basketball’s gold-medal-winning Dream Team at the 1992 Summer Olympics, which was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010, making Johnson and Bird two-time honorees.  

Johnson and Bird have epitomized greatness dating to their memorable clash in the 1979 NCAA Tournament, when Johnson lifted Michigan State past Bird-led Indiana State in the national championship game, which is still the highest-rated game on television in college basketball history.  Both made an immediate impact in the NBA the following season, with Johnson leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship and Bird capturing Rookie of the Year honors with the Boston Celtics.

A three-time Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award recipient, Johnson won five NBA championships and helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals nine times.  Renowned for his extraordinary court vision and unique flair as a tall point guard, Johnson averaged 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game in 13 seasons with the Lakers.  He ranks fifth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

> Legends Profile: Magic Johnson

Johnson retired in 1991 after announcing that he was HIV positive, becoming an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.  He returned to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, where he was named MVP after an unforgettable performance, and later came out of retirement to rejoin the Lakers during the 1995-96 season.  Johnson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Now a successful entrepreneur, Johnson is Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Football Club and esports franchise Team Liquid.  He owned shares in the Lakers from 1994-2010, when the franchise won five NBA championships.  Johnson served as the Lakers’ head coach during the 1993-94 season and as their President of Basketball Operations from 2017-19.  His broadcasting career included a stint with Turner Sports.  

Like Johnson, Bird played his entire 13-year career with the same team. He led the Celtics to three NBA championships and was honored as the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP twice.  A premier shooter and adept playmaker from the forward position, Bird has career averages of 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game.   He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998.

> Legends Profile: Larry Bird

After his playing career, Bird flourished as a head coach and executive with the Indiana Pacers.  He was named the 1997-98 NBA Coach of the Year in his debut coaching season and guided the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals in each of his three seasons.  In 1999-2000, Bird coached Indiana to its first NBA Finals appearance.

Bird had two stints as the Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations, winning the 2011-12 NBA Basketball Executive of the Year Award.  He is the only person in NBA history to win the MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year awards.  Bird now works with the Pacers in an advisory role.

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Blogtable: Would Bucks or Raptors match up better in Finals vs. Warriors?

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Who would match up better against the Warriors in The Finals: Raptors or Bucks?

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Steve Aschburner:  Toronto. And I thought this way even before the Raptors took a 3-2 series lead in the East finals Thursday night. Milwaukee’s defense is stretched thin enough against Toronto, so the Warriors’ firepower would be a huge problem. Especially when Kevin Durant returns, Golden State has defenders with whom it can swarm Giannis Antetokounmpo, even more effectively than the Raptors have or the Celtics (briefly) did. Draymond Green locked onto Giannis for four to seven games? Come on, that also would be a problem for Milwaukee. Frankly, I’m not sure either of East finalists would get the edge at even one spot in a position-by-position breakdown. The only reason I think the Warriors won’t sweep is, they’ll have to deal with some shifting of gears once Durant and maybe DeMarcus Cousins come back. Might cost ‘em a game.

Shaun Powell:  Go with the Bucks because not only do they have an elite player, they shoot 3-pointers and play decent defensively. Both teams match up well if the Warriors aren’t bringing Kevin Durant. Neither, however, matches up well if they are.

John Schuhmann:  Despite their performance in Games 3-5 of the Eastern Conference finals, it’s probably the Bucks. They’re bigger and they have a lot of guards that can defend Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (to some degree of success, at least). Their defense does allow a lot of 3-point attempts, but they are good at forcing the right guys to shoot those 3-pointers. In fact, the 7.6 3-point attempts per 36 minutes that Curry averaged against the Bucks was his lowest rate against any opponent. Of course, Toronto’s defense has been fantastic throughout the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard has taken things to a new level, and the Raptors would also have a puncher’s chance against the champs.

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Milwaukee’s strengths turning into weaknesses in East finals

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A poor pass by Eric Bledsoe turned into a turnover off Malcolm Brogdon. Then the Bucks pressed Toronto hard, leaving Siakam alone on the baseline for a dunk that sealed it. But clearly, any two of those offensive boards — by a Bucks team that led the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage (80.3) — might have swung the momentum at the end and the outcome.

“We’ve got to get [them], find a way,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “All five guys gotta participate.”

Oh yeah, that reminds us: Milwaukee was a team that had nine guys participating earlier in this series, as well as in the rounds against Detroit and Boston. Budenholzer makes one tweak to his lineup, moving Brogdon back into a starting job in place of Nikola Mirotic, and poof! The bench produced only 15 points, 20 fewer than Toronto’s.

That leaves 3-point shooting as the most vital component of Milwaukee’s game suddenly gone fallow. This marked the seventh consecutive game in which the Bucks made a third or fewer of their 3-point attempts. They were 10-of-31 in Game 5, so 59-of-195 in this series.

That’s a 30.3-percent success rate, significant slippage from their 35.3-percent accuracy in the regular season. How significant? At 30.3 percent, the Bucks would have made 156 fewer 3-pointers. That’s 468 fewer points scored, which would have dropped Milwaukee from the league’s top scoring team (9,686) all the way down to No. 13.

More than that, the let-it-fly, live-by-the-3 ethos became part of their team’s bravado. Budenholzer believed that, even allowing for some chilly shooting nights, counting by threes would prevail at least four times in any seven games.

The Bucks still haven’t gotten shy about taking them. They just haven’t found a fix for making them.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo addresses the Bucks’ Game 5 loss.

Some in the Milwaukee camp were bemoaning the number of uncontested looks their shooters missed in Game 4. Raptors coach Nick Nurse, without specifics readily available right after Game 5, thought his team might have yielded even more open looks Thursday.

Still, when the clangs mount to the point that a trend is apparent, you have to consider there is more in play than bum luck. Maybe tight game situations lead to nerves. Or desperation.

“It came be anything,” Nurse said. “I think it can be your defense is flying around a little bit and you’ve got them hearing footsteps. Or you’ve played a lot of minutes. I don’t know, maybe if it’s a big tall guy coming out at you and you aren’t that big.”

Right now, the only thing worse for Milwaukee than its 3-point percentage is 20 of 288 (6.9 percent). That’s how many NBA teams have opened up a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series, yet managed to lose anyway.

The team that never had lost three in a row was being reminded late Thursday of the prickly Celtics team they’d beaten two weeks ago, after Boston won the series opener, then went belly-up in the next four.

“We’re not gonna fold,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re not gonna fold. We [were] the best team in the league, we’re not gonna fold. We’re gonna go give everything we’ve got. You’re not gonna go there and … even if they set a great tone [in Game 6] and hit us in the mouth first, you can’t fold.”

The Bucks star added: “Obviously, I’m pissed. I’m not going to lie to you. But you’ve just got to keep your head up. Keep having that confidence. Try to pick up your teammates and tell them they can do this. ‘We’ve got two more games to go, and we can do this.’”

 

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Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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



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Kawhi Leonard’s improved playmaking has Raptors on cusp of Finals

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And on the 22 possessions in which he drove, the Raptors scored 29 points, 10 from Leonard himself and 19 from his teammates.

“Pretty much try to stay with a consistent mindset throughout the whole game,” Leonard said of his performance. “Just trying to read the defense throughout the entire game, see what’s working.”

It was all working, whether it was Leonard calling his own number or making plays for others. And it certainly helps that the others have seemingly found their mojo. Fred VanVleet, who shot 6-for-42 over a nine-game stretch from Game 2 of the conference semis through Game 3 of this series, is a 63 percent shooter (10-for-12 from 3-point range) when he has more than one child.

All of Leonard’s nine assists in Game 5 were on 3-pointers – so he accounted for 62 (59 percent) of the Raptors’ 105 points via his own points and assists – and four of them were to the dad who hasn’t slept much since Fred Jr. was born on Monday.

“Any time he chooses to get the rest of us involved,” VanVleet said of Leonard, “it’s going to bode well for our offense. The rest of us just got to be ready to step up and knock them down.”

VanVleet had both the biggest shot of the night – a three from the right wing off a Leonard kick-out that broke a 93-93 tie with 2:19 to go – and the quote of the night when asked about his formula for success: “Zero sleep, have a lot of babies, and go out there and let loose.”

The Raptors’ offense has been the biggest key to this series, because Toronto’s defense, when it has been set, has been tremendous. They’ve kept Antetokounmpo from getting all the way to the basket, and they’ve been able to recover out to and contest the Bucks’ shooters.

 

Kawhi Leonard did it all for Toronto in Game 5.

While the Raptors scored 1.32 points per possession when Leonard drove in Game 5, the Bucks scored at a rate less than half of that (0.57, 12 points on 21 possessions) when Antetokounmpo drove.

“We’ve got to play good offense,” Nurse said, “not turn it over and score the basketball, because if you don’t, they’re getting what they want, which is downhill basketball in a hurry. If we can score it, if we can take care of it, we can get our defense set up, for the most part we get down and guard them and make the shots a lot tougher.”

Just six days ago, the Raptors were a possession away from falling into an 0-3 hole, one that no team in NBA history has ever come back from. Now, they’ve won three straight games against the team that hadn’t lost three straight all season. After scoring less than a point per possession over the first two games of this series, the Raptors have scored 110.3 per 100 over the last three.

The defense feeds off of the offense. And the offense feeds off of the star that keeps taking things to a new level.

“I’m not afraid of the moment,” Leonard said. “I enjoy it.”

The Kawhi Leonard that we saw in Games 1-4 against Philadelphia (when he averaged 38.0 points on 62 percent shooting) was a preposterously efficient scorer, good enough to keep his team even in the second round. The Kawhi Leonard that we saw on Thursday has his team playing even better … and just one win from the NBA Finals.

 

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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



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