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Naismith Hall of Famer Grant Hill weighs in on NBA finals and Olympic goals ahead

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In the NBA Finals, the beasts of the Eastern Conference meet the best of the Western Conference, although in the East, the Boston Celtics have been dominant all year. And out of the West, the Dallas Mavericks weren't considered a lock to even make the playoffs but have been riding a hot streak that's taken them from the fifth seed all the way to the Finals.

Grant Hill is someone who knows something about a hot streak. He is a basketball Hall of Famer turned broadcaster for TNT and NBA TV, and he joins us now from Boston, where Game 1 tips off tonight. Hi there. Welcome to the program.

GRANT HILL: Hey. Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: OK. The Celtics - they've just been killing it all year, an their duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have made it to the NBA Finals before. Tell us what's different this year.

HILL: Wow. Well, they have been great all season. And really, the two of them have been great the last few seasons in the regular season and, of course, getting very far and deep into the playoffs. But this year has been extra special. I think some of the moves that Brad Stevens, the Celtics general manager, made this off season, bringing in Kristaps Porzingis, Jrue Holiday, just have been really good, really solid.

And they were the best team in the regular season. They cruised through the regular season. And they kind of cruised through the playoffs with, well, obviously, Porzingis is getting hurt in the first round. You know, they didn't need him the rest of the playoffs or at least the next two rounds, but I do believe they will need him here in this series for them to have a chance to win the championship.

SUMMERS: All right, so that's Boston. But what's been the big storyline in Dallas? I mean, I know that this team has two star guards who have really seemed to gel and figure out how to work well together.

HILL: You know, it's really been quite extraordinary what has happened in Dallas. I mean, a year ago, they made a trade for Kyrie Irving, and they kind of flamed out at the end of the regular season. The Mavericks did not make the playoffs. And they were kind of cruising along during the regular season, but they made a trade at the trade deadline. They brought in Gafford. They brought in P.J. Washington. And they just got hot at the right time.

Their defense the last 20 games of the regular season was the most efficient defense in the NBA during that stretch. They won 16 out of 20 games to end the season and just kind of gained confidence, gained an understanding of, like, what it takes on both ends to be successful. And they've been able to carry that momentum and then ride that hot streak all the way here to the Finals. Of course, having Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, two of the best guards, one-on-one scoring players in the league has helped. But the way this team has collectively defended, this team is really just a matter of getting hot at the right time of the season and being able to deliver.

SUMMERS: So, I mean, if you just were to look at this purely on paper, one might think that the Celtics are the stronger team, but how do they match up against the Mavs in your mind?

HILL: Well, you know, they played them twice this year in the regular season and blew them out. And it's a little tough. I mean, that one game was in January. One was in March. I think what Boston has is they have length and size on the perimeter. They're an elite defensive team. They have an ability to shoot a high volume of three-pointers and make those three-pointers at a very efficient clip. But then they also get a lot of points in the paint. And, you know, Dallas has been sensational at limiting points in the paint this post season, keeping teams out on the perimeter, making them shoot three-pointers. So, you know, Luka's had his way, but Boston's had their way against Dallas in the regular season.

Now, Dallas is not the same team they were in the regular season. They're a different team. They're a better team. So on paper, yes, maybe the Celtics because they have home court advantage, because they were the No. 1 team all season and going into the postseason. This will not be an easy series whatsoever. And I think we're going to get an exciting series and a series that could go to six or seven games to determine who ultimately is the champion.

SUMMERS: And I'll just note that there are two athletes on the Celtics who will finish the Finals. They'll take whatever rest they can get before joining Team USA for the Olympics. And you also happen to be managing director of men's Team USA as well as a former gold medalist. Are these guys go to be ready to take on the world when the tournament starts in late July?

HILL: Yeah. Yeah. No, we are very excited for the Olympics in Paris. And we have been game planning and strategizing. And certainly Jrue Holiday and Jayson Tatum, who are on the Boston Celtics, are on the squad this summer. So - but no, we have a great team. We have a team that has a lot of FIBA international basketball experience. And the challenge for us is going to be, in a very short period of time, coming together as a team, learning the style of play, learning each other and being at our best when it matters when we get to Paris in the Games.

SUMMERS: Yeah. I know a lot of us are looking forward to that. Look. I mean, Grant, I don't have to tell you this, but Olympic basketball is no longer a guaranteed gold for the U.S. men. It's not like you can just assemble any dream team, watch them walk all over the rest of the world. I'm just curious. Can you give us a little hint of what your guiding principles were in putting together the lineup this year?

HILL: Well, I'm glad you said that. I mean, I think sometimes, because we have been so successful and at times dominant in international play, we have an arrogance about, oh, we're just going to roll the ball out there and have success. But it's a different game. It's a different style. It's officiated differently. We have incredible talent. I think collectively, we have the most talent. Will the personalities and the styles of play, will all of that blend together? You know, it's not necessarily the best players, but it's the best team. And it's like a puzzle. And we'll see later this summer if we're right or wrong. And I'm hoping we'll be right with a gold medal.

SUMMERS: Last thing before I let you go. I want to pivot to another topic that's in the news. There's this new FX series that dramatizes the time that the LA Clippers owner was forced to sell the team after his racist comments emerged. And I know that you spent your last NBA season with the Clippers before the scandal broke. And I just want to know if you've seen the series and whether it matches what you experienced on the team.

HILL: Yeah, I heard about the series that - I have not seen it. I do look forward to watching. It was a difficult time for that team and for the players and the coaches that went through that. During the postseason, when everything came out and Donald Sterling and things about what he said were revealed, I do think that Adam Silver, as a new commissioner in his first year, showed his leadership and basically removed him from the NBA. And I think he gained a lot of respect when he did that.

SUMMERS: That's Grant Hill from "NBA Inside Stuff" and TNT's basketball coverage. And, of course, he is a 19-season NBA veteran. Grant Hill, thank you so much.

HILL: All right. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason Fuller
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
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