The Magic's third-quarter run against the Celtics

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On Sunday, the Magic were able to beat the Celtics on the Celtics’ home floor thanks to an absolutely dominant 36-11 third quarter. On NBAplaybook.com, Sebastian Pruiti has a video breakdown of three key sequences in the quarter.

The Magic’s offensive formula isn’t a state secret. They put Dwight Howard on the block, surround him with three-point shooters, and dare opposing defenses to pick their poison. The Celtics are one of the teams best-equipped to defend this strategy. Kendrick Perkins is one of the few defenders in the league who can keep Howard from getting the shots he wants in the paint, allowing the rest of the Celtics to stay at home on the Magic’s shooters.

In the three sequences highlighted by Sebastian, we can see three of the ways the Magic overcame the Celtics’ defense, in particular the matchup of Kendrick Perkins on Dwight Howard.

1. Dwight Howard Continues To Evolve His Game

Howard is an absolute monster around the rim. He has a combination of strength, speed, and hops not seen since Shaq was shattering backboards, and he loves to throw the ball down with authority. However, Howard has had some issues with expanding his offensive arsenal. Against Perkins, Howard is forced to get baskets with finesse instead of power, and he was able to do that in the third quarter. In the first possession shown, Howard faces up Perkins from the left block and makes a sweeping hook going across the lane. It’s an unblockable shot, and one Howard rarely found the net with when Boston and Orlando met in the playoffs last season. Later in the quarter, Howard showed some touch from the outside, again facing up Perkins on the left side of the floor and knocking down a 13-foot bank shot. Howard will always be at his best in the immediate basket area, but if he can make shots like those consistently, he’ll be much harder to take out of a game.

2. The Magic Push The Ball and Spread The Floor

In the second possession shown, we see the Magic pushing the ball in transition and finding Rashard Lewis in the corner for an open three-point look. The Magic aren’t known for their ability to run the break; they’re only 23rd in the league in fast-break points per game, and scored just five fast-break points during Sunday’s game. What the Magic use their transition game for is spreading the floor, confusing the defense, and getting their shooters quality three-point looks early in the clock. It isn’t a traditional fast-break, but it works for the Magic. Against a Celtic team that came into Sunday’s game giving up the second-fewest points in the league from beyond the three-point arc, the Magic were able to drain 11 of their 22 shots from deep.

The Magic Benefit From Rasheed Wallace

In the third sequence, the Magic get an easy look at a three-pointer thanks to Rasheed Wallace coming over to help out Garnett against Howard, then getting caught in no-mans land as Rashard Lewis moves without the ball and drains a three. It’s not a good double, and put very little additional pressure on Howard while freeing up a very good three-point shooter for an outside shot. Wallace came into Boston with a very good defensive reputation, and has drawn more ire for his shot selection than his defense during his disappointing time with the Celtics.

However, the numbers suggest that Wallace has hurt the Celtics on defense more than their offense. According to 82games.com, The Celtics are 0.8 points per 100 possessions worse offensively when Wallace is on the floor, and 5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively. When Rasheed is in the game, the Celtics go from being an elite defensive team to a below-average one.

So that’s part of the reason the Magic were able to steamroll the Celtics in the third quarter. Advanced post moves by Dwight Howard, three-point looks early in the shot clock, and playing against Rasheed Wallace. Not a bad formula.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.