Rajon Rondo

Poise? Young Sixers have it, out execute Celtics down stretch to even series


In Game 1, the Boston Celtics turned up the defensive pressure late, the young 76ers wilted and Boston escaped with a tight win.

Lesson learned.

The Sixers were the poised team down the stretch Monday, with Jrue Holiday hitting a three, Evan Turner making a difficult scoop shot, all the Sixers playing good defense and Turner hitting free throws. Meanwhile Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen missed key jumpers and Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen.

Philly won 82-81 and has evened the series at 1-1 heading back to the City of Brotherly Love.

Between now and Game 3, the Celtics are going to have to find a way to get consistent offense. They are going to have to find some fire and fight, they have played it cool so far. Their veteran depth was supposed to be their advantage coming in — that and the veteran poise at the end of the game — but it has been hit and miss. While their small-ball offense got them back in it Monday it was not enough at the end.

Unlike Game 1 Boston came out playing hard from the opening tip and jumped out to 9-0 lead as the started 5-5 shooting from the field. But that was the first bit of poise we saw from the 76ers all night as they settled down and fought back to be down 25-21 after first quarter, then took lead early in second quarter.

The Sixers did a good job defensively on Boston all game (really, for two games now) — the Celtics scored 24 points in the second and third quarter combined. Rajon Rondo was 4-12 shooting on the night, Brandon Bass 5-15 (12 points for him) and Paul Pierce 2-9.

For the second game in a row Garnett led the Celtics, this time with 15 points on 7-12 shooting. But Boston has to get more production from other guys, and Pierce just does not look himself with that sprained knee. Allen is not himself with ankle issues. But the points need to come from somewhere.

The Sixers led by 8 entering the fourth quarter but they were struggling to score all game as well against the Boston defense. Well, except for Holiday, he bounced back from his 3-13 shooting in Game 1 to score 18 points on 7-15, including going 4-6 from three. He was the guy that had the offense.

But at home, you knew Boston would make a run and sure enough a Garnett turnaround in the lane tied the game with 4:30 to go. It felt like Game 1 — Philly would play them close but the veteran Celtics would make the plays.

Not this time. Philly had the lucky — a Lavoy Allen turnaround 17-footer with 0.9 on the shot clock that banked in — and just the plane good (the ridiculous scoop shot by Turner in the paint). Avery Bradley (who had been out after separating his shoulder again) returned and hit a key three, but Jrue Holiday answered right back. Then Ray Allen answered back again.

The key plays down the stretch for Boston came next — Rondo missed a wide-open shot from the top of the key. Turner scored then Ray Allen missed a contested 15-foot baseline leaner. Turner made his free throws and the Celtics were down three.

That’s when Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen that freed up Paul Pierce for a three-point attempt. It was a moving screen, KG holds and leans out into Andre Iguodala, but you almost never see that call at that point. Against the home team. Against Garnett. Boston was in disbelief.

But Philly made the plays and now will have the chance to take the lead in this series at home.

If one team can figure out how to put up consistent offense in this series, they will pull away. For 45 minutes this game was hard to watch, it felt like a 1990s Knicks game. Without the flair. We were lucky that the final three minutes had big shots and plenty of entertainment.

If at home Philly can get some more transition baskets they can make things hard on Boston. For the Celtics, the points are going to have to come from Rondo or one of the aging bodies on this team. These are two good defensive teams but we are also seeing just a lot of missed good looks.

That’s fine with Philly for a night. They won. They grew up and showed poise and now we have a real series on our hands.

Report: Jahlil Okafor had gun pulled on him in another altercation in October

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
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Apparently Sixers’ star rookie Jahlil Okafor‘s altercation outside a nightclub in Boston earlier this week — one for which he apologized, and there will be no law enforcement action — was not his only altercation since training camp opened.

Okafor had a gun pulled on him back in October, according to a report by John Finger at CSNPhilly.com.

The 19-year-old Sixers’ rookie was outside an Old City nightclub after 2 a.m. on October 4 when he and another person began arguing with two men sitting in a parked car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, according to a witness. The verbal disagreement escalated and a witness said he saw Okafor try to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window. During the altercation, the driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun in the direction of Okafor and his associate, per the witness.

U.S. Park Rangers — who patrol nearby Independence Hall — arrived on the scene during the altercation, according to separate reports filed by the U.S. Park Rangers and the Philadelphia Police Department and obtained by CSNPhilly.com. The man who exited the passenger side of the car fled on foot and appeared to toss his gun, per multiple witnesses. According to the police report, the driver got into a black Camaro with red stripes and sped off. The car was not stopped….

A law enforcement source told CSNPhilly.com that a gun magazine was recovered near the scene and submitted for fingerprint analysis. The law enforcement source said the investigation is ongoing. It is unclear what happened to Okafor or his associate after the incident or if they were interviewed by U.S. Park Rangers or PPD.

The Sixers told Finger that they were aware of the investigation but would not comment further.

Add this to the incident in Boston and it makes you wonder about the situations Okafor keeps finding himself in. That said, we’re talking about a 19-year-old, and if you’ve ever been that age you know it is not always when you make your best decisions. Okafor is just going to have to grow up more quickly — and under a brighter spotlight — than the rest of us.


Raptors center Bismack Biyombo: Cavaliers believe we’re tougher than them

Lebron James, Bismack Biyombo
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LeBron James and James Jones called a players-only meeting after the Cavaliers’ loss to the Raptors on Wednesday.

This is why.

Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“The most important thing is that we played tough,” Bismack told cleveland.com. “Cleveland is a good team, but when they come in here, they feel like we are the tough ones and that’s what we want to accomplish as the definition of the Toronto Raptors.”

Those are harsh words from Biyombo. It’s one thing to say you believe your team is tougher than the opponent. It’s another to say you can tell the opponent believes your team is tougher.

Privately, though, I bet LeBron appreciates this comment.

The Cavaliers are not soft, but their goal is nothing short of a championship. They need to get tougher if they’re going to beat the Warriors, whom LeBron said look hungrier than Cleveland. So, LeBron has already begun challenging his teammates. He wants them to believe they have far to go, because that will pay off in the long run.

Biyombo’s answer furthers the Cavs toward that goal.

Plus, if the Cavaliers and Raptors meet in the playoffs, it’ll make it much easier for Cleveland to find motivation. But Toronto is a tough team. That series would be no walkover unless the Cavs use this criticism constructively.

Jerry West: Draymond Green is a Top 10 player in NBA

Draymond Green

Jerry West is smarter than you. And me. Put together. This guy is more than just the logo, he helped assemble the Showtime Lakers, he was a vocal advocate of not trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, he has been right far more than he has been wrong making basketball decisions.

And he says Draymond Green is a top-10 player in the NBA. West was on KNBR radio in the Bay Area when he made these comments (hat tip to Eye on Basketball):

“I think honestly we have two of the top 10 players in the league — Draymond Green is the second one. He’s the most underrated player in the NBA, period. There are very few players, I think, anyone in our organization would trade for him. He’s just a remarkable player. Watch him handle the ball, watch him make passes, defensively he’s everywhere. If he’s not a top 10 player in this league, I don’t know who is.”

West is right.

If you’re shaking your head no, then you don’t realize how 29 other teams are trying to find their own Green right now. Name the players who can step into the Warriors’ system and do what he does right now? It’s a short list. He is at the heart of what makes Golden State so dangerous; he’s more valuable to their style than Klay Thompson.

Well, we can add one caveat — Green is top 10 if your team is playing small. If you’re just going to play him as a four next to a traditional big all the time he’s still good but not a game changer. However, Green is a game changer at the center spot and the reason that the Warriors are so feared when they go small.

What is usually discussed about Green is he’s a fierce defender who can hold his own with a big inside, make a traditional center work, get rebounds, and still switch out on a pick-and-roll and harass a quick guard. Golden State doesn’t suffer defensively when they go small — they allow 9.1 points fewer per 100 possessions when they go small than their season-long average. Green makes it happen; that’s why he was second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.

What often gets overlooked is how great he is as a pick-setting big when Golden State goes small. No defense has figured out the Stephen Curry/Green pick-and-roll. In part because Curry is Curry and almost indefensible. But Green can roll and finish in the lane, pop out and knock down a three, or do a half-roll to the free throw line and when the help defender closes on him he finds Andre Iguodala alone in the corner for a three (or Klay Thompson at the arc, or a slashing Harrison Barnes, you get the idea). Green is a skilled playmaker in his own right and plays with a high IQ, making the Warriors tough to defend.

In Golden State’s system, there is no doubt Green is a top 10 player.



Byron Scott believes Lakers management still supports him


Lakers coach Byron Scott has said plenty of ridiculous things lately:

Maybe Lakers fans ought to hope Scott is wrong about this, too.

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Scott said he still senses support from Kupchak and Lakers executive vice president of basketball personnel Jim Buss. Scott is in the second-year of a four-year contract worth $17 million, with a team option for the final season.

“We still understand that this is a process,” Scott said. “We have a lot of young guys on this team that we feel will be very good players. But it’s not going to happen in a month. It’s going to take some time. It might take a year or two.”

The Lakers are 2-12, better than only the 76ers. Scott has allowed Kobe to hijack and cripple the offense, and the defense might be even worse. Player development is suspect, at best.

Scott does not deserve job security, let alone multiple years of it.

So, what are Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss thinking?

There are a few possibilities:

1. Management isn’t as sold on Scott as he says they are.

2. Management is using Scott – with or without his knowledge – to tank to keep the Lakers’ top-three protected first-round pick.

3. Management is as lost as Scott appears to be.

Good luck sorting out which is the case.