Celtics obliterate Hawks, head to Atlanta with 3-1 lead in series

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The Atlanta Hawks were able to pick up a victory in the opening game of their NBA Playoffs series against the Boston Celtics, but after watching Sunday evening’s game, it seems as though that might be the only win they post this postseason. The Celtics were able to get their offense going from the get-go and, unsurprisingly, it got ugly for Hawks’ fans soon after as Boston cruised to an easy victory.

There was a lot of optimism pre-game for  a competitive contest when it was announced that Al Horford would return from injury and Josh Smith was good to go after missing Game 3 due to injury, but that optimism was all for naught, unfortunately. Boston got out to an amazingly hot start and couldn’t miss a shot — in spite of solid defense — and kept their foot on the gas on the resof the way en route to a 101-79 victory and a 3-1 lead in the series.

The Celtics moved the ball well in the early-goings, the jump shots were falling and the writing was on the wall at the end of the first quarter. For reference, the Celtics made six field goals in the first quarter whereas Rajon Rondo dished seven of his 16 total assists in the same stanza … and it didn’t get any prettier the rest of the way for Atlanta.

The Hawks’ offensive-isolation woes that have plagued them in previous games were there from the outset — they dished just two more assists as a team than Rondo did himself — and they were unable to get any sort of significant contributions from their best offensive players: Joe Johnson scored nine points on just eight shots, Jeff Teague had seven points and a less-than-stellar defensive effort while Smith returned from injury to score 15 points and grab 13 rebounds, though his six turnovers were a problem and he looked less mobile than he was prior to Game 2’s injury.

As far as Boston was concerned, really, it was just really good basketball. Rondo was able to penetrate and pass at ease after establishing that his jumper was falling early, opening up everyone else for good looks before the Hawks eventually just threw in the towel. It didn’t hurt, however, that Paul Pierce was amazing once again despite a knee injury that sent him to the locker room early in the first half. In less than 17 minutes of playing time, Pierce went 10-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, to score a game-high 24 points while Rondo added 20 himself amidst a solid scoring output that saw four other Celtics end up in double-figures.

The Hawks are headed home for Game 5 on Tuesday night, but after watching them have no answer for Boston on Sunday night, it’s hard to believe this series will last any longer than that contest. If it does, however, it’ll be because Johnson earns his max contract, Smith is healthy and Horford is able to play more minutes as he returns to health. Unfortunately for Atlanta, though, even those three players might not be enough if Boston’s offense is working as well as it did in Game 4.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”