Wizards focus on stopping Celtics’ 3-pointers in Game 2

Leave a comment

BOSTON (AP) — Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks stated the obvious at his team’s practice on Monday.

“Their 3-point shooting is a problem,” Brooks said of the Boston Celtics, who tied a franchise record with 19 treys in Sunday’s 123-111 victory over the Wizards in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven is at TD Garden Tuesday night.

Back on May 3, 2002, the Celtics made 19 3-pointers in a 120-87 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers that clinched a best-of-five playoff series. On Sunday, Boston was 19 of 39 on its 3-pointers, including 10 of 19 in the second half and 4 of 6 in the fourth quarter.

“We have to do a better job of knowing which ones of those guys are shooters and make them put the ball on the floor,” Wizards guard John Wall, who had 20 points and dished out 16 assists in the loss, told reporters at practice.

“We can live with contested twos, we can live with contested shots at the rim, but to make spot-up threes … that’s what this team does. We know they’re going to shoot a lot and they (hit) more than what they shot in the regular season.”

Added fellow guard Bradley Beal: “We gave up 19 threes, on the road. … It’s just a matter of us defending, man.”

The Celtics became the first team this playoff season and the eighth ever to hit at least 15 treys in back-to-back games — nothing unusual for a team that lives and dies with the 3-pointer. They went 16 of 39 in their elimination win at Chicago on Friday night.

Isaiah Thomas went 5 of 11 from 3-point range in a 33-point, nine assist effort in Game 1 — all coming after he arrived back in town in the wee hours of the Sunday morning after attending his sister’s funeral. It was his third 30-point game out of seven in this season’s playoffs.

Thomas lost a tooth thanks to an inadvertent elbow from Washington forward Otto Porter, picked it up and went on to lead his team to the important win. On Monday, he was at the dentist having work done as his team practiced.

“He’s finishing up the dental work that he’s had,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said after practice. “It’s pretty significant as you can imagine. So he’s still in a dentist’s chair and will hopefully be able to come over later in the afternoon, kind of go through what we did (at practice), and go from there. But he did not practice.”

On Sunday, Thomas said he was going for a steal when he took the elbow that knocked the tooth out.

“I’ve taken a thousand hits like that and my tooth never came out,” Thomas said. “I always said pain is temporary. We’ll worry about it when the time comes.”

While Stevens knows he will have Thomas for Game 2, Brooks still can’t be sure forward Markieff Morris, who sprained his left ankle coming down on Celtics center Al Horford‘s foot after Horford fouled him, will be available.

“I’m playing tomorrow. It’s final,” said Morris, who didn’t practice Monday, sitting on the bench getting treatments. He said Horford apologized, telling him “My fault” after Morris went down after playing just 8:09.

Brooks said he will not have backup center Ian Mahinmi (calf) back until at least Friday’s Game 3 and indicated fellow big man Jason Smith, who played only nine minutes in Game 1 and has also been dealing with a calf problem, would get more minutes in Game 2.

“We just gotta do a better job of making things difficult for these guys. They can make shots. They’ve got guys that can score the ball,” Wall said. “Al Horford had a heck of a game. He’s basically their point guard when we trapped Isaiah — he gave the ball to Al and he did a great job finding teammates, making plays down the stretch.

“Even when we made runs, those guys made a barrage of threes.”

Horford, who didn’t have a point or a rebound and handed out one assist in the first quarter, just missed a triple-double. He finished with 21 points, a playoff career-high 10 assists and nine rebounds in the victory.

“He’s one of the best all-around bigs in the game,” said Brooks. “Top two or three passing big (man) in the league … and he shoots threes.”

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
Leave a comment

NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

1 Comment

It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

Getty Images
2 Comments

This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

Getty Images
7 Comments

LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.