Isaiah Thomas has 34 as Celtics beat Trail Blazers 120-111 (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Isaiah Thomas‘ teammates kept telling him to keep shooting, that the shots would fall.

And they did.

Thomas wound up with 34 points after a slow start, including 15 in the fourth quarter, and the Boston Celtics rebounded from a loss the previous night to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-111 on Thursday.

Thomas had just a single basket in the first quarter.

“I was missing a lot of easy shots all night long. It was a tough night for me offensively. But I just stay the course,” Thomas said. “The guys keep saying `Keep shooting, just get open.’ I just try to make those shots.”

Marcus Smart added 18 for the Celtics, who had seven scorers in double figures. Thomas, who went into the game as the NBA’s No. 2 scorer behind Russell Westbrook, has scored 20 or more points in 37 straight games. He surpassed the 10.6 points he was averaging in fourth quarters to lead the league.

Damian Lillard had 28 points and seven assists for the Blazers, while Al-Farouq Aminu added a season-high 26 points, including 10 in the final quarter.

The Celtics were playing the second of a back-to-back after losing the opening game of their four-game road trip, 108-92 in Sacramento. The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak.

Thomas’ driving layup gave Boston a 106-102 lead with just under 3 minutes left. Lillard made free throws and it looked like Portland got a break with a stop, but Aminu turned over the ball on the other end and Jaylen Brown made free throws to push Boston’s lead to 108-104. Smart added a layup and Portland couldn’t catch up.

“That’s a really good, hard-nosed, tough win,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said.

Portland was coming off a 114-113 victory at Dallas on Tuesday night. CJ McCollum won it on a runner with 0.9 seconds left.

But the victory was costly for the Blazers. Guard Evan Turner fractured a bone in his right hand during the third quarter and will be out for the next five to six weeks.

Turner is averaging 9.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 50 games, including 10 starts. He had just been promoted to the starting lineup when he was injured.

“That was definitely tough – on top of the position we’re in. We need all the bodies we have. So it’s definitely frustrating,” he said. “I guess one perk is it’s just a bone. It wasn’t anything worse. And then, on top of that, the All-Star break is going to take a week. So hopefully I don’t miss too much.”

The Celtics were without Jae Crowder because of a family issue. Smart started in his place.

The Blazers led by as many as 15 points in the first half, but Lillard thought the Blazers were hurt after letting Boston close to 55-49 at the break after a 15-4 run. Thomas had 14 points in the second quarter.

“I think that was our first mistake, second-best team in the East right now, you give them life and allow them to feel like they’re still in the game and can take it over,” he said. “Then in third, they took the lead and from that point on it was a back-and-fourth game. Both teams competed hard. Then it got down the stretch and they just made those plays that we didn’t make.”

TIP-INS:

Celtics: Guard Avery Bradley missed his 12th game with a sore right Achilles. … Thomas was handed a technical foul for elbowing Portland’s Meyers Leonard midway through the second quarter.

Trail Blazers: Portland defeated the Celtics 127-123 in overtime on Jan. 21 in Boston. McCollum scored 35 points.

SMART MOVES: Both Thomas and Lillard praised Smart for making the difference in the end.

“He does all the stuff that’s not in the stat sheet. If you want a championship team, you need guys like that on your team,” Thomas said. “He had offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals, key baskets. He does it all.”

Lillard chimed in: “I thought Marcus Smart was huge for them. It probably won’t show up on the stat sheet but he did a lot of winning things for them.”

UP NEXT:

Celtics: Boston plays at Utah on Saturday.

Trail Blazers: The Blazers host the Hawks on Monday, the first of two meetings this season.

Report: Bulls pushing to trade for 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass against Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
1 Comment

The Bulls reportedly reached out to the 76ers about Jahlil Okafor a few weeks ago.

After unfulfilled intrigue and maybe a trade that fell through, Okafor remains in Philadelphia. And Chicago apparently still wants him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

As constituted, the Bulls already have a few interior bigs: Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio. But one or more could go in an Okafor trade or another deal.

Okafor would make the Chicago younger, confusing its direction with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade already in place.

Perhaps, the Bulls are pushing for a trade only because they’re offering so little. Okafor’s low-post game offers intrigue. At the right price, he’d be worth adding, no matter the fit and direction presented.

Maybe the 76ers don’t go for a lowball offer, but that’d be worth trying considering their center logjam with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Otherwise, Chicago ought to tread carefully when pursuing Okafor.

Report: 76ers trading Ersan Ilyasova to Hawks for Tiago Splitter, picks

Atlanta Hawks guard Mike Dunleavy blocks the shot of Philadelphia 76ers forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 110-93. (AP Photo/John Amis)
AP Photo/John Amis
8 Comments

The 76ers have played like a 64-win team when Joel Embiid and Ersan Ilyasova share the court and a 20-win team otherwise, using data from nbawowy!.

That’s helpful for Philadelphia, which is learning what type of player — a stretch four — works best with its franchise player.

But the Hawks can use more than just a lesson in the idea of Ersan Ilyasova. They can use actual Ersan Ilyasova.

And Atlanta will get him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated:

Atlanta stills sound intent on keeping Paul Millsap, so Ilyasova will likely back him up. Ilyasova should work particularly well with Dwight Howard, whose interior play was a key factor in ushering in this stretch-four era by covering for the lighter power forward next to him.

In the last 21 months, Ilyasova has been traded five times: from the Bucks to the Pistons to the Magic to the Thunder to the 76ers and now to the Hawks. They can probably count on the veteran to settle in quickly as they try to improve their position in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Atlanta is fifth, closer to third than sixth.

Both Ilyasova and Splitter have expiring contracts. The advantage of Splitter, who has missed the Hawks’ last 90 games, is that his full compensation counts toward the floor apparently without Philadelphia actually having to play all of his salary.

Plus, those picks could help the 76ers in a season where they can win something meaningful — like the Hawks have decided this season is for them.

Report: Other NBA executives believe Pacers not seriously shopping Paul George

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Dan Mullan/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Pacers are reportedly shopping Paul George, trying to line up a trade if they can’t get him help in another deal.

But it’s hard to find anyone who believes Indiana is genuinely looking to trade George before the upcoming trade deadline.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If the Pacers are serious about trading George, they better convince other teams quickly. That’s the only way to draw out the best offers.

But it makes sense Indiana is only in the exploratory stage.

The Pacers — and only the Pacers — could offer George a designated-veteran-player contract extension (projected to be worth about $209 million over five years) this offseason if he makes an All-NBA team.

That’s probably a longshot. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are locks for three of the six forward spots. Anthony DavisJimmy ButlerDraymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also rank ahead of George. Gordon HaywardPaul MillsapKevin Love are firmly in the mix, too. That’s a lot of ground to make up and other contenders to fend off.

But it’s likely worth it for the Pacers to keep George past the deadline and let him try. The upside is so high.

If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Indiana could always trade him at any point before the next trade deadline. He could also qualify as a designated veteran player by making a 2017-18 All-NBA team and re-signing as a free agent in 2018, but by then, it’d be too late for the Pacers to trade him if they don’t have the major financial advantage.

At some point, Indiana could ask George to pledge to stay for his max, whatever that winds up being. That wouldn’t be binding, but his response could be telling.

For now, if I were the Pacers, I’d hope he makes All-NBA this year and dare him to reject the designated-veteran-player extension. If he qualifies and turns that down, that would absolutely be telling.

But I’d also be exploring the trade market now, hoping for an offer that knocks my socks off but more realistically gaining understanding for when dealing George becomes more logical.

Report: Clippers’ Chris Paul cleared, could play against Warriors on Thursday

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul shoots as Portland Trail Blazers' Al-Farouq Aminu watches during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
1 Comment

Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb last month, and the Clippers announced he’d miss 6-8 weeks.

He could return just over five weeks after injury, when the Clippers face the Warriors on Thursday.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Andrew Han of ESPN:

“He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good,” Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. “He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”

The Clippers have slid to fourth in the West, leading the fifth-place Jazz by just half a game. It’s probably too late to catch the third-place Rockets, who are five games up. But maintaining home-court advantage in the first round is important.

Paul should help.

The Clippers remain dangerous when healthy. They’ve outscored teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the court. With those four, they score and defend at rates that would lead the league if it weren’t for Golden State’s historic offensive rating.