Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Celtics make it 10 wins in a row… is what Boston is doing sustainable? Are they contenders? Wednesday, Boston coach Brad Stevens finally unleashed his ultimate offensive weapon — Aron Baynes. For the first 11 games of the season Stevens been using some misdirection, putting the ball in the hands of Kyrie Irving, and having him do dribble handoffs with Al Horford. But that was just the hors-d’oeuvre, Baynes is the meal. Wednesday night against the Lakers Stevens finally unleashed the fury that is Baynes.
Okay, maybe that is overstating it. Slightly. But Baynes had 21 points on 12 shots starting in place of Horford — who is in the league’s concussion protocol — as he overwhelmed the Lakers inside on Boston’s way to a fairly comfortable 107-96 win over rival Los Angeles.
That’s 10 wins in a row for Boston, and it lead’s to the question: Just how sustainable is this? We knew Boston would be good this season, but are they contenders right now, even without Gordon Hayward?
Yes, they are.
Making the Finals is a good definition of a contender and this season that is not some far-off dream in Boston, it’s reasonable.
Boston moves up to contender status because of their defense — the best in the NBA this young season. Just ask Lonzo Ball, who was rudely introduced to Marcus Smart Wednesday.
No, this Boston run is not sustainable in the “they are going 80-2 this season” kind of way — they have won 10 in a row against the 10th softest schedule in the league so far. Think of who they have beaten and there are a lot of rebuilding teams (Knicks, Kings, Sixers, Lakers, Hawks) and even when they get the Spurs they get them without Kawhi Leonard. There will be rough patches ahead. The Celtics have had role players playing over their heads a little (see Baynes dropping 21), and while the young tandem of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum keep playing incredibly well, they will have peaks and valleys as well.
However, Boston is a real and legitimate threat to come out of the East. Kyrie Irving has bought into what Stevens preaches on offense, and more importantly has hustled more on defense than we have seen in years (he doesn’t die on nearly as many screens as he did in Cleveland). Horford and Irving have developed a fast on-court chemistry, and their two-man dribble handoff game is hard to stop. Role players like Smart and Marcus Morris can sustain what they are doing, and Stevens puts guys in great positions to succeed.
The shadow of LeBron James still looms over the East. While the Cavaliers have struggled early — and there are legitimate questions about how good their defense can be — LeBron has been to seven straight NBA Finals for a reason. He has other gears has not even thought about reaching yet (well, except when Bradley Beal and John Wall decided to piss him off before a game). Getting through the Cavaliers to the Finals will be a huge mountain to climb — you are going to have to knock out the champ, he’s not just handing over the belt.
However, that is a question for May. Right now the Celtics have won 10 in a row, they thumped their rival Lakers, and the Celtics are going to keep Bostonians warm through a long winter. This team is for real.
2) Detroit remains the team pushing Boston… is that sustainable? The Detroit Pistons are 8-3, and Andre Drummond is shooting 68.3 percent from the free throw line. Those two facts are a bigger surprise than what is happening in Bean Town, and after the Pistons handled the Pacers on Wednesday, it’s time to ask:
Is Detroit for real? Is this sustainable?
Define for real. The Pistons are currently on a 60-win pace, and that’s not happening. They are not a threat to Boston now or Cleveland whenever that team decides to wake up.
However, are the Pistons a playoff team? Absolutely. One that can make the second round? Let’s see what the matchups are and how teams are playing in April, but it’s not out of the question.
The Pistons are ninth in the NBA in both offensive and defensive rating to start the season, and while being top 10 in both may not hold up (the defense may falter, teams are shooting fairly well against them and getting to the line at a good clip; and the offense still takes more long mid-rangers than I like) this is a team we thought would take a step forward last season but never got on track thanks to the Reggie Jackson injury, which threw everything off. Now, they are back on that trajectory, and Avery Bradley has been a better version of KCP so far to help that cause. They get some easy buckets in transition now, and they have guys who can shoot the rock.
Detroit has been one of the bigger surprises of the young season, but this is no fluke. Andre Drummond is for real (and not just at the charity stripe), and so is Detroit in its new downtown building. Stan Van Gundy has things back on track in the motor city.
3) Kevin Durant sits, Warriors don’t even break stride. Just a reminder: The Golden State Warriors won an NBA title and then had a 73-win season BEFORE Kevin Durant arrived. As Jeff Van Gundy said after the game, take Durant off this team — as a thigh contusion did Wednesday — and they are still the title favorites.
Minnesota came into Oracle Arena on a five-game win streak and as the poster child for “team on the rise,” then for two and a half quarters the upstarts hung around with the champs. Then, sparked by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson (with some help off the bench from Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee) the Warriors went on an 18-4 run, pulled away, never looked back and went on to win 125-101.
That’s just what the Warriors do. To everyone. So enjoy highlights of Curry and Thompson going off and know that with the thematic question of the day on this post — is this team for real? — we were never asking it about Golden State.
Draymond Green, Bradley Beal ejected in Warriors’ comeback win over Wizards
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Golden State lost its emotional leader when Draymond Green was ejected shortly before halftime. The defending champs were sloppy again, even forgetting several plays after one timeout and still somehow won – but it has hardly been easy so far.
Kevin Durant had 31 points, 11 rebounds and six assists to help rally the Warriors from 18 points down and beat the Wizards 120-117 on Friday night, a game marred by a fight between Green and Washington’s Bradley Beal that led to both being tossed.
With 19.5 seconds left in the second quarter, Beal held the front of Green’s jersey with his left hand while grabbing Green around the jaw with his right. That enraged Green, who threw his right arm in frustration and wrapped arms with Beal as if hugging, then other players joined the scrum.
“It was a scuffle. I’m not going to go into details about it. I’ll do that with the league tomorrow,” Beal said. “We just got into it and things got out of hand and we both got ejected. I told my teammates I can’t put myself in a situation like that to leave them out there to battle out against a tough team without me out there.”
Green had to be pulled away from the skirmish by Andre Iguodala and Warriors security personnel. Green was tossed after getting his second technical foul. The back of his uniform was torn from near his right shoulder down to his waist.
“I thought Draymond defended himself and bit the bullet of being ejected for the game,” West said.
Green was hit with his first technical at the 8:05 mark of the second quarter for arguing an offensive foul call. He had six assists, three points, three rebounds and three blocks before his early exit.
Warriors’ rookie Jordan Bell goes off the backboard to himself for dunk
The best part of this is the stunned reaction of the Warriors bench.
The Warriors had taken total control of the game against Dallas in the second half, and with a few minutes left Steve Kerr emptied his bench in garbage time. That’s when rookie Jordan Bell made the play of the night: He blocked Dwight Powell‘s shot then leaked out, JaVale McGee batted the ball ahead to him, and Bell threw the ball off the backboard for a self alley-oop. He got an and-one on the play.
“Listen man, when you get on the basketball floor, I don’t care if you get out there with two minutes to go up 25 or with two minutes to go down 25, somebody is evaluating you. So you gotta play the game just like it’s tied up or if you’re up four or if you’re down four. You gotta play the game the same way. Somebody is evaluating you. So if you want to throw it off the backboard, feel free and dunk the ball. He got an And One. It was a great play. So, I got no message for him. Do what you do. Play basketball. That’s what he did. I don’t get all up into the whole ‘Ah man, they’re winning by this much, that’s bad.’ Says who? Dunk the ball. What’s the difference between if he threw it off the backboard and dunked it as opposed to grabbing it and dunking it?”
Or, put another way, if you don’t want a player to throw down the massive alley-oop dunk on you, play better defense in the first place.
JaVale McGee can hit threes? JaVale McGee can hit threes. (VIDEO)