Jae Crowder

Associated Press

Back from injury, Isaiah Thomas scores 25 as Celtics top Wizards

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BOSTON (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 25 points after missing the previous two games with a bruised right knee, leading the Boston Celtics to a 110-102 victory over the Washington Wizards in another testy matchup Monday night between two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Avery Bradley added 20 points and nine rebounds for Boston, which moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards for second place in the East. The Celtics trail first-place Cleveland by two games.

Jae Crowder and Al Horford each scored 16 with nine boards.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 19 points, and John Wall had 16 points with eight assists.

Behind Thomas’ 12 third-quarter points, Boston pushed an 11-point halftime lead to 92-75 after three.

The Wizards trailed by 15 with just more than four minutes left, but closed to 106-100 on Kelly Oubre Jr.’s steal and breakaway dunk with 2:05 to play.

Marcus Smart had a basket and two free throws to seal it.

The bad feelings built up between the teams this season resurfaced briefly midway into the second quarter. Washington’s Brandon Jennings bumped into Terry Rozier a few times under the basket before Rozier pushed him to the floor near midcourt. Both got a technical.

In the last meeting at TD Garden in early January, Crowder and Wall had words at the end of the game. Crowder pointed his finger in Wall’s face, and Wall slapped at him.

When they met in Washington on Jan. 25, the Wizards wore what they called “funeral black” to the game before picking up the win.

The Celtics used a 16-5 run midway into the second to help them build a 58-47 halftime edge.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Wizards: F Markieff Morris (illness) returned to the starting lineup after missing the past two games. . Wall came up limping after a driving, spinning basket in the third quarter, but stayed in the game. . Washington committed a season-high 28 fouls.

Celtics: Thomas hit a 3-pointer for a club-record 45th straight game. . Boston opened a stretch of six straight at home and play only three games away from home the rest of the regular season.

REACQUAINTED

With the Celtics healthy again, coach Brad Stevens said the final weeks of the regular season give his team a chance to get stronger playing together.

“We just haven’t had a ton of time with ourselves fully healthy,” he said. “We have to make sure that we utilize this time appropriately for our team to get better. Regardless of who we’re playing against, there aren’t any secrets.”

 

Three Things We Learned Thursday: Warriors still figuring out no Durant life, good teams like Celtics expose that

Associated Press
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It was a busy night around the NBA with 11 games, but if you were binging Luke Cage we understand, here are the big takeaways from Tuesday around the league. 

1) Golden State still has not figured out life without Kevin Durant, and good teams like Boston will make them pay.
The Celtics came into Oracle Arena and did what they do in the fourth quarter: Play disciplined defense, count on role players such as Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk to step up, and lean on Isaiah Thomas. It’s a model that works.

Golden State still hasn’t figured out what works with Kevin Durant sidelined. KD — who said he “got a boo-boo playing basketball” — watched the game from the locker room at Oracle and had to be itching to get back out there seeing the mess that unfolded.

The Warriors were up a bucket heading into the fourth quarter, then in the next 12 minutes they scored 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting with eight turnovers. Boston thoroughly outplayed Golden State in the fourth, went on a 15-0 run midway through the quarter, and pulled away for a 99-86 win. While there was still more than four minutes left, this Thomas three felt like the moment the Celtics closed the door on the game.

We need to give Boston credit here. They prioritized defending the arc and the Warriors shot 6-of-30 from deep. Thomas led the way with 25, but Olynyk’s 17 off the bench were huge (he was +29 on the night). They executed with the game on the line, as they have all season.

But the Warriors are just not right.

When Durant went down, I said that for the Warriors to hold on to the No. 1 seed they needed Stephen Curry to return to his MVP form of previous seasons. He has not been anywhere close to that. There were fourth-quarter “M-V-P” chants in Oracle Tuesday night, but they were for Boston’s Thomas. Maybe we can blame a harsh and packed stretch of the schedule for Curry’s 2-of-9 three-point shooting against Boston, or the fact Curry is shooting 29.5 percent from three in his last five games, but the Warriors can’t afford that now (although coach Steve Kerr postgame talked about resting key players coming up). With no Durant there is no safety net, no rotations where Curry can just coast and be fine, or where Warriors role players don’t have to step up.

It’s not just Curry struggling, and not just Klay Thompson either (2-of-8 from three Tuesday), you can throw coach Steve Kerr in the mix. He has not found rotations that work, particularly in the fourth. Kerr’s regular rotation this season was to rest Durant and Curry both to start the fourth, then bring them back midway through and at that time give a brief rest to Thompson and Draymond Green, then have them re-enter for the final three or four minutes as needed. Kerr hasn’t really varied from that, but most of the Celtics game-deciding 15-0 run had come before Curry got back on the court, and when he did he couldn’t begin to reverse it by himself. Having two of the Warriors three best players on the bench for three minutes in the second half of the fourth quarter is going to get them beat by good teams, such as Boston. Kerr can’t lean on James Michael McAdoo and Patrick McCaw in these moments without KD on the court.

When Durant first went down, I thought the idea of San Antonio catching the Warriors for the No. 1 seed was a crazy longshot (I didn’t think the Warriors would lose that many games). No more. As the Warriors stumble to reshape their identity, the Spurs are just 1.5 games back and poised for the run to the top.

2) Utah went into Houston and — thanks to Rudy Gobert and his hair — beat the Rockets. Utah is going to have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and if they play then against the Clippers (most likely the opponent) like they did against Houston on Tuesday, the Jazz could be in the second round. Do not sleep on this team.

Houston got 23 points each from Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert (the latter of whom has some interesting hair going on), they made James Harden work for his buckets (he was 0-of-8 from three), and the result was a 115-108 Jazz win. Also, of course, the Jazz were playing good defense and getting blocked shots — from Hayward.

With this win (and a Clipper loss to the Timberwolves) the Jazz are 2.5 games ahead of the Clippers for the four seed. That means Utah is going to be the four seed and have home-court in the first round, and that is going to be an interesting series (Gobert vs. DeAndre Jordan, how do the Jazz defend Chris Paul?). The Jazz could well win that series, which would be a massive boost to their efforts to retain Gordon Hayward this summer (and would lead to some real soul searching for the Clippers).

3) It’s just fun to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo play the game. Here he drops 32 on the Knicks. The Greek Freek’s line for the night — 32 points on 21 shots, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks — is far from out of the ordinary for him. Of course, he led the Bucks to a win over the Knicks, keeping their playoff dreams alive (both the Bucks and Heat are just half a game back of Detroit for the final playoff slot in the East).

However, we’re running these highlights just because it’s a joy to watch him play if you love the game of basketball.

Warriors fall at home to Celtics again: Boston wins 99-86

Associated Press
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Boston Celtics had their way in Golden State’s typically imposing building again. Last April, it was wrecking the Warriors’ record 54-game home winning streak.

This time, they spoiled Golden State’s lone appearance at Oracle Arena in a nearly three-week span.

Isaiah Thomas scored 25 points, Kelly Olynyk added 17 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench and Boston beat the sloppy Warriors 99-86 on Wednesday night,

Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot just 4 for 17 from 3-point range as Golden State went just 6 for 30 from long range and struggled again without injured star Kevin Durant, who spoke before the game wearing a bulky brace on his injured left knee and using crutches.

“They did a good job of guarding the 3,” Thompson said. “Teams know we can kill them from 3.”

Curry had 23 points, five rebounds and six assists, and Thompson scored 25 points as the Warriors’ 10-game home winning streak was snapped – nearly a year after Boston last stunned Golden State here.

It was the Warriors’ first home defeat against the Eastern Conference this season and fifth in all out of 26 matchups.

“We’re in a tough spot in the schedule and with KD’s injury. Everybody goes through this at some point in the season,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You just make your way through and you let everybody else freak out and panic. You just keep your nose down, keep working and things work out.”

Golden State took a 74-72 lead into the fourth quarter when Curry knocked down a buzzer-beating 3 to end the third over rookie Jaylen Brown, with the two-time reigning MVP pointing and celebrating at the young forward.

“I didn’t say anything to anyone to be honest,” Brown said. “I think my defense was doing the talking, I was playing good D until he beat me on that head fake.”

Golden State trailed 76-74 with 8:41 remaining before Draymond Green came slashing through the key for a pair of one-handed slams in just more than a minute. Boston, which handed Golden State one of its two home losses last season with that 109-106 victory on April 1, kept answering every big play.

Jae Crowder knocked down a 3 for the Celtics and Golden State then committed two straight turnovers that led to four more points as Boston built its cushion to 90-79.

Green made a steal in his career-best 23rd straight game, the longest by a Warriors player since Curry did so in 33 consecutive outings in 2015-16.

TIP-INS

Celtics: G/F James Young was out with a bruised tailbone. He tried to go through shootaround to no avail. … The Celtics are 4-7 against Golden State since 2010-11.

Warriors: Curry (12,656) is 14 points from tying his father, Dell, for 210th place on the NBA career scoring list with 12,670. … Matt Barnes received a rousing standing ovation when he checked into the game at the 3:41 mark of the first quarter in his Oracle Arena debut after re-joining the team 10 years after his first stint. … Golden State’s streak of 11 straight games with at least 10 steals ended. … Thompson reached 200 3-pointers, joining Curry as the only players in NBA history with 200 3s in five straight seasons.

ROAD TRIPPIN’

With just more than one day at home, Golden State considered this game almost like a road test given the Warriors are playing eight times in 13 days and already went East, then home for one before a back-to-back Friday at Minnesota and Saturday at San Antonio.

“We’re still on the road trip, that’s the way we look at it,” Kerr said. “This is Game 6 of an eight-game road trip, they just happened to send us to Oakland in between Atlanta and Minnesota. I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Kerr will consider resting players as needed this weekend after checking with the training staff. Of leaving town again, he said, “it seems kind of crazy but here we go.”

“I know every guy in that locker room wants to play,” Curry said.

A NEW CAR

Evan Meredith of Oakland hit four 3-pointers during a third-quarter timeout to win a new KIA car.

 

Watch Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Ulis — both 5-foot-9 — battle for a jump ball (VIDEO)

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Usually when NBA players get a jump ball, you have a scenario where two tall dudes go up against each other. Sometimes there’s a mismatch, and the shorter player has to try to steal the ball away by getting a quicker jump.

But on Sunday, during a game between the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns, we got something different.

Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Ulis, two 5-foot-9 professional basketball players, squared off for what could have been the shortest jump ball in NBA history.

Thankfully for all of us, both Ulis and Thomas are athletic dudes and the inter-game competition didn’t disappoint.

Thomas won the tip, with the ball carefully falling to Boston’s Jae Crowder.

Former Celtics teammate Evan Turner loved it:

Of course, Ulis would go on to win the game with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off a Thomas turnover.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Top four in East all face off, Celtics and Wizards get big wins

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What kind of world do we live in where someone would actually pretend to be in Nickleback? Why? So many things make no sense. Fortunately, we have hoops to distract us. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday in the NBA.

1) Wizards beat Raptors in race to avoid fourth seed in the East. Amongst Boston, Washington, and Toronto there is a serious playoff seedings race underway — to avoid being the four seed. The reason is simple, nobody wants to face Cleveland in the second round of the postseason. Teams want to be on the other side of the bracket, have a path to the conference finals and take your shot at the East’s powerhouse there. The four seed means a tough Atlanta team in the first round (most likely) then the Cavs.

A home-and-home this week between Toronto and Washington could play a huge role in who avoids that four seed, and round one went to the Wizards. Washington had just knocked off Golden State the night before (the game where Kevin Durant was injured) and on the second night of a back-to-back built on that against the Kyle Lowry-less Raptors, 105-96. The real hero for the Wizards was just acquired Bojan Bogdanovic, who had a team-high 27 points and was at the heart of a 26-3 run by the second unit that blew the game open.

Also give the Wizards’ small forward Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre credit for quality defense on DeMar DeRozan all night, making him work for his 24 points. The Raptors offense is just far easier to defend without Lowry in part because the threat of the three has dropped off: in the four games without Lowry, the Raptors are taking just 6.5 threes per game and hitting 32 percent of them. That has to change or teams will just pack the paint and go under every pick.

The Wizards and Raptors move to our nation’s capital and face off again Friday.

2) LeBron James puts up triple-double, and Celtics still beat Cavaliers. It felt like a playoff game in Boston Garden. Let’s not confuse a March 1 win against a team out two starters with something that actually can be predictive about the playoffs — regular season matchups are often poor indicators of playoff series — but for Boston this was a confidence booster.

LeBron James was doing his thing —28 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists — but when it came to late game execution is was Boston making the plays. Isaiah Thomas was impressive as always with 31 points on just 20 shots, but he got help with critical late-game plays from Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Avery Bradley was hitting big shots, too.

Of course, it was IT with the dagger in the fourth that sealed the win.

The win puts the Celtics within three games of Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the East. That dream is not happening for Boston without some serious help from the Cavs, but this win does help keep Boston a step ahead of Toronto and Washington (see above). It’s a quality win, and a reminder the Celtics will be a tough out come the postseason.

3) Nets win! Nets win! Their 16-game losing streak is over. Break up the Brooklyn Nets. Wait, previous management did that years ago, now a new front office is trying to put it all back together despite a bunch of missing pieces.

The Nets had lost 16 in a row before landing in Sacramento to face the Demarcus-less Kings Wednesday night, and it was all Nets from the start — they never trailed in the contest. Brook Lopez had 24 points, Jeremy Lin added 17, and the Nets got enough stops to pick up a road win. That’s Brooklyn’s 10th win of the season.

Buddy Hield had 16 off the bench for the Kings, and Ty Lawson played in spite of the Taco Tuesday disaster and added 15. Also worth noting, rookie Skal Labissiere has shown flashes the last few games, and had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Long way to go with him still, but you can see why he was so highly recruited coming into college.