Eight games in a row on the road — it was supposed to do Boston in, knock them out of the playoffs. It was the biggest test of the season and the Celtics old legs were not going to be able to live up to it.
Friday night the road trip ends in Philadelphia and at the end of the night the Celtics could move into first place in the Atlantic Division.
The stage was set for that by Boston’s 100-91 win over the Bucks Thursday night. That win moved the Celtics half a game behind the Sixers for the division lead — and the automatic four seed that comes with it. Which means avoiding the Heat or Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.
Even if the Celtics don’t grab the division lead Friday, the win over the Bucks — breaking Milwaukee’s six-game winning streak — put them on solid footing to make the postseason.
The Bucks are the 9 seed in the East but are now four games back of the 7 seed Celtics — that’s a lot of ground to have to make up in just 20 games. (Which is how many games the Celtics have left this season.)
(The team that might be more nervous about the charging Bucks is the Knicks — except the Knicks have won five in a row themselves. New York is 1.5 games ahead of the Bucks. Milwaukee might have better chance to catch the 76ers who are 4.5 games ahead of them but slumping.)
The Sixers got their key win over the Bucks the old fashioned way — good defense. Well, a half of good defense. After a tight first half the Celtics held Milwaukee to 29.3 percent shooting in the second half. For the game the Bucks backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined to shoot 12-of-32. Which is still better than Drew Gooden’s 2-of-12.
Meanwhile Paul Pierce had 10 points in the third quarter on his way to a game high 25.
If Boston can get a performance like this on Friday night — if the old legs can do it one more time on this road trip — they will go home with after a 5-3 road trip with a half-game lead in the Atlantic. Something nobody saw coming.
So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.
But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.
But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.
When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.
Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.
Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.
Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.
Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.
New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.
I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.
But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.