Jaylen Brown scores 30, young Celtics take 2-0 series lead over Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo drove and scored while being fouled, his third drawn foul on a made shot.

But he stepped on Aron Baynes foot, fell to the ground and held his right ankle in pain. Then – following a Last Two Minute Report that noted he held the ball longer than the permitted 10 seconds on all six of tracked free throws in Game 1 (a longstanding issue) and an air-balled quicker free throw earlier in Game 2 – Antetokounmpo missed again from the line.

Antetokounmpo remains a force, but the rising Celtics have the Bucks down, battered and thrown for a loop.

Jaylen Brown scored 30 points to lead Boston to a 120-106 Game 2 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday, giving the Celtics a 2-0 series lead. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 94% of the time.

The 21-year-old Brown became youngest Boston player ever to score 30 in a playoff game.

“What more can you ask for?” Brown said. “Everybody’s writing us off. They’re saying that we’re too young, and we’re not even listening.”

The Celtics appeared headed for trouble with Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis out injured. But Boston’s young players are stepping up.

Starting at point guard for Irving, 24-year-old Terry Rozier (23 points on eight assists tonight) has played 78 minutes in this series without a turnover. Rozier is acing this audition.

Antetokounmpo (30 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) is elite. Khris Middleton (25 points on 10-of-14 shooting) played excellently once he finally asserted himself.

But Eric Bledsoe continues to struggle. Tony Snell has been invisible. The Bucks still haven’t found a helpful role for Jabari Parker – no easy task considering his defensive shortcomings. Milwaukee’s centers were also too often out of position defensively. Anything Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe did required overcoming the Bucks’ poor spacing.

On the other hand, the Celtics – both young and seasoned – are flowing. Marcus Morris (18 points) and Middleton got chippy late in the game. At one point, Morris committed a hard foul on Middleton. Middleton earned free throws, but once everyone was separated, Morris was calling the Boston crowd to its feet.

The Bucks are still standing. The Celtics feel good about how things are going.

PBT Extra Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Boston Celtics

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Teams in the East were jockeying to get on Boston’s side of the playoff bracket because the Celtics are so banged up — no Kyrie Irving, no Gordon Hayward, no Marcus Smart, no Daniel Theis. The Milwaukee Bucks finished with the seven seed and got the chance to take on what’s left of the Celtics in the first round.

But can the Bucks beat them?

Milwaukee will have the best player in the series by a mile in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they have strong players around him such as Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton. However, the Bucks are undisciplined and make mental mistakes all the time. On the other side, Boston still has Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown — and they will be disciplined. The Celtics will defend well and not make mistakes.

That combination makes this an interesting clash.

76ers look dangerous when adjusting for playoff rotations

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Kyrie Irving significantly affected the Celtics’ record this season. Isaiah Thomas held a defining role on the Cavaliers for a while. Tristan Thompson played plenty for Cleveland, too.

But Irving (injured) and Thomas (traded) will have nothing to do with Boston’s and Cleveland’s playoff fortunes. If Thompson falls from the Cavs’ postseason rotation, neither will he.

Yet, any season-long metrics – including win-loss record – commonly used to predict the playoffs factor in those players. So, I’ve found how many points per 100 possessions teams score and allow when five players projected to be in the postseason rotation are on the floor together.

This is hardly a perfect measure. Teams rarely announce their playoff rotations, so we’re left with my predictions of which players will receive regular playing time in the first round. The minutes distribution among players in the adjusted rating can vary from what it’ll be during the playoffs. This doesn’t take into account opponent quality. Some teams have larger samples than others. Home-court advantage is not considered.

But I find it useful, another data point among the many necessary to evaluate the upcoming playoffs. It shows how the players we project to see on the court the next couple weeks have played together, without someone else affecting the chemistry.

Here’s each team’s offensive, defensive and net ratings adjusted from the regular season to counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the first-round playoff rotation (using nbawowy! to calculate):

Eastern Conference

3. Philadelphia 76ers

  • Offensive rating: 110.6 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 106.1 to 99.4
  • Net rating: +4.5 to +10.7

1. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 116.1 to 118.5
  • Defensive rating: 107.8 to 108.2
  • Net rating: +8.3 to +10.3

7. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Offensive rating: 111.1 to 116.7
  • Defensive rating: 111.4 to 109.1
  • Net rating: -0.3 to +7.6

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 115.0 to 116.4
  • Defensive rating: 113.9 to 109.1
  • Net rating: +1.1 to +7.3

8. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 113.4
  • Defensive rating: 110.6 to 108.1
  • Net rating: +0.6 to +5.3

6. Miami Heat

  • Offensive rating: 108.2 to 112.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.8 to 107.4
  • Net rating: +0.4 to +4.7

5. Indiana Pacers

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 111.7
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 108.0
  • Net rating: +1.5 to +3.7

2. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 109.7 to 106.6
  • Defensive rating: 105.9 to 104.1
  • Net rating: +3.8 to +2.5

Western Conference

1. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 118.0 to 124.3
  • Defensive rating: 109.1 to 112.1
  • Net rating: +8.9 to +12.2

5. Utah Jazz

  • Offensive rating: 109.5 to 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 105.3 to 100.7
  • Net rating: +4.2 to +11.2

6. New Orleans Pelicans

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 115.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.7 to 105.3
  • Net rating: +1.5 to +9.9

3. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 111.2 to 113.6
  • Defensive rating: 108.5 to 108.1
  • Net rating: +2.7 to +5.5

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Offensive rating: 115.1 to 116.5
  • Defensive rating: 112.9 to 111.4
  • Net rating: +2.2 to +5.1

7. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 112.4
  • Defensive rating: 106.5 to 108.1
  • Net rating: +3.1 to +4.3

2. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 115.1 to 109.0
  • Defensive rating: 108.6 to 106.7
  • Net rating: +6.5 to +2.3

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 112.9 to 114.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.3 to 111.9
  • Net rating: +3.6 to +2.3

Observations:

    • The 76ers’ projection doesn’t include Joel Embiid, who expects to miss Game 1 against the Heat. Replace Richaun Holmes with Embiid, and the 76ers’ offensive/defensive/net ratings jump to 116.9/98.6/+18.3. Wow!
    • These rankings could overrate the 76ers, though. Their schedule softened late, after Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli arrived post-buyout. Counting those two in the postseason rotation could skew the sample.
    • Nearly all teams annually see their net rating improve once adjusted for the playoff rotation. This year, three teams get worse with the adjustment. All three – Celtics (Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis), Warriors (Stephen Curry) and Thunder (Andre Roberson) – are missing key players due to injury.
    • The adjustment pegs four lower seeds ahead of their first-round opponent – Bucks over Celtics, Jazz over Thunder, Pelicans over Trail Blazers, Spurs over Warriors.
    • Utah became a different team once Rudy Gobert got healthy.
    • The Pelicans projected postseason rotation is especially tight. They might need to rely more on lesser players than projected here, lest they risk getting worn down.
    • Whichever team drew depleted Boston was clearly in (relatively) good shape. The Bucks might be the best of the teams – also, Heat and Wizards – that were in the running.
    • I expected the Cavaliers to improve even more with the adjustment. Isaiah Thomas trying to play his way back into form was so destructive for them. Perhaps, LeBron James dialing it up will be enough for them to win the East again.
    • The Rockets’ offense will be awesome. They’ll miss Luc Mbah a Moute defensively.

Three Things to Know: Three must-watch games on final night of season

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Every weekday throughout the NBA season, we have given you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Today, for the last day of the regular season (and the last of the Three Things columns) we are looking ahead).

How insanely close has the NBA competition been this season? We head into the last night of the regular season with zero playoff matchups set. Not one. The top couple teams in each conference are locked into their spots, but below them the ground is still shifting. Nothing is settled. Our old friend Matt Moore (now with the Action Sports Network) has been tracking the playoff tiebreaks and outcome with a religious fervor, and this Tweet sums up just how much is still on the line in the West.

With all that said, here are the three games you need to watch Wednesday night:

1) Denver at Minnesota: Win and you’re in. This is Game 7. Or an MLB Wild Card play-in game. Or an NCAA Tournament game. It’s this simple: Minnesota and Denver are tied for the 8/9 seeds in the West at 46-35, and they play tonight at the Target Center. Winner is in the playoffs. Loser can make a tee time for whenever they want tomorrow.

(By the way, the winner is not automatically going to be the eight seed and chum in the first round for the Rockets. If Denver wins it cannot finish eighth — due to tiebreakers — and will be either the six or seven seed. If Minnesota wins it can be anywhere from 6-8 depending upon other games.)

It’s essentially a home game seven for Minnesota, and home teams have a huge advantage in Game 7s. Still, Game 7s are must watch.

2) Utah at Portland, battle for the three seed in the West. It’s the last game of the night, however the playoff seedings and matchups will not be set until it is over. Both the Jazz and Trail Blazers have punched their ticket to the postseason, but the winner of this game gets the three seed in the West and being in Golden State’s side of the bracket (with the Warriors a little banged up that may be preferrable to facing Houston).

Portland looked like a lock for the three seed a week ago, but lost four in a row to put themselves in this position. Meanwhile, Utah has won six in a row to give themselves this shot at a top three seed (which, considering they were 5 games out of the playoffs on Jan. 15, in insane). That said, Utah is on a back-to-back after beating the Warriors last night, their legs could be a little tired.

3) Milwaukee at Philadelphia, who wants to win this one? Time for a little gamesmanship. Remember that teams in the East are trying to line up a chance to play the banged up No. 2 seed Boston Celtics (a good team that will be without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis).

If the Bucks lose this game, they are the seven seed and get the Celtics in the first round. Win and they move up to six and would face LeBron James Cleveland in the first round (assuming the Cavs take care of business and knock off the lowly Knicks). How badly do the Bucks want this one?

If the Sixers win, they hang on to the three seed and would face Boston or the team that beats them (the Bucks) in the second round. A Philly loss combined with a Cleveland win and the Sixers fall to the four seed and face a tougher playoff path, one that goes through Toronto. Meaning the Sixers are motivated to win this one.

So one team is motivated to win, another to lose… you see where this is going, right?

One other game to watch: Toronto at Miami. This doesn’t matter to Toronto, they are the top seed. For Miami, win and they will be the six or seven seed, but a Heat loss combined with a Wizards win (over a tanking Magic team) and the Heat become the seven seed. Miami is motivated in this one, Toronto… not so much.

Celtics: Kyrie Irving out 4-5 months

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Update: Celtics release:

This Saturday, Celtics guard Kyrie Irving will undergo a procedure to remove two screws implanted in his left patella after the patellar fracture he suffered during the NBA Finals in 2015. Following a mid-March procedure to remove a tension wire that had been implanted at the same time as the screws, pathology indicated the presence of a bacterial infection at the site of the hardware. To ensure that no infection remains in the knee, the screws will be removed. The fracture in Irving’s patella has completely healed, and his knee remains structurally sound. He is expected to make a full recovery in 4-5 months.

Turns out, he’ll miss the entire postseason.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is devastating to Boston, which falls from a legitimate Eastern Conference challenger to a team susceptible to losing in the first round. The Celtics will still probably finish with the No. 2 seed, but without Irving, they’re not necessarily better than the Heat, Bucks or Wizards – potential first-round foes.

Irving joins Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis as Boston players listed as done for the season. Like with Hayward, rumors could still emerge about Irving returning if the Celtics advance far enough. Today’s leak could be about Boston trying to preemptively shut down speculation and questions about Irving’s availability. But winning a series or two obviously becomes far more difficult without those stars.

This also opens the door to questions about Irving’s long-term health. His knee is a reoccurring issue, and he and the team must manage it. This might cause the Celtics to retain Marcus Smart in restricted free agency and/or extend Terry Rozier‘s contract this offseason.

For now, Rozier must continue to step up at point guard. Smart will help if he gets healthy. So will Shane Larkin once he does, too.

Boston isn’t finished. Brad Stevens is an excellent coach who gets everyone to understand and embrace their roles. Al Horford is a star. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are emerging.

No matter what happens in the playoffs, this was a positive year for the Celtics – acquiring Irving and Hayward, seeing Tatum, Brown and Rozier develop. The Cavaliers still have LeBron James, and the Raptors have extended their window through a “culture reset.” Boston can afford to take the long view.

With the available talent diminishing, the Celtics now look more like a lower seed than their 53-25 record would suggest. They play hard and cohesively, but goes only so far in the playoffs. They acquired Irving to put them over the top in those situations – but that must wait.