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.
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.
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.
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.”
Wizards’ Kelly Oubre Jr. with chase down block on Denzel Valentine (VIDEO)
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.
While you were trying to come up with clever ways to get out of traffic tickets, the Wizards and Cavaliers were playing maybe the game of the year, so we have the takeaways from that and more around the NBA Monday.
1) If that’s what it’s going to look like, I would like to order a Cavaliers vs. Wizards playoff series. It was something I discussed during a recent PBT Podcast talking Wizards: Washington had moved up with Boston and Toronto into the discussion of who is the second best team in the East. Monday night on a nationally televised game, the Wizards got the chance to test themselves against the best.
Cleveland got the 140-135 win thanks to a ridiculous LeBron James shot to force overtime then Kyrie Irving taking over in the extra period. But the Wizards got respect. And if this is what a playoff series between these teams would look like, bring it on. I’ll take five, six, seven games of this.
The Cavs got the win in large part because LeBron was vintage and brilliant, with 32 points and a career-high 17 assists. But all anyone is going to talk about is this shot-of-the-year candidate to force OT — it starts with a brilliant pass from the best outlet passer in the game in Kevin Love (who finished with 39 points of his own), then LeBron called bank.
Forget just that shot, the entire end of regulation and highlights of overtime are worth watching.
For the Cavs, they went on the road against a quality opponent that had won 17 in a row on their home court and got the win. This team has stumbled with LeBron off the floor at times this season, but after he had fouled out in the overtime Kyrie Irving took over scoring 11 of his 23 points, and that got them the win. Also, Love was fantastic punishing the Wizards inside when Washington tried to go small. Cleveland is still the bar to clear, the best team in the East. Although, adding another playmaker wouldn’t hurt.
The Wizards had to like what they saw: John Wall getting into the lane, breaking down the Cavs defense and dishing a dozen assists (plus scoring 22); Bradley Beal scoring 41 and torching Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye for stretches; Otto Porter playing well in big moments and scoring 25; Markieff Morris making big plays;Kelly Oubre playing well off the bench. The Wizards looked legit and by all reports were brimming with confidence after the game despite the loss.
The playoffs in the East may not just be a coronation for the Cavaliers, they are going to have to earn it.
2) Trade rumors update. From now through the trade deadline this will be a semi-regular feature of Three Things, breaking down all the trade rumors out there.
• LeBron rips report he pushed trade Kevin Love for Carmelo Anthony. The Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love rumors refuse to die, although most of the talking comes out of New York. Including the latest that none other than LeBron was pushing for the deal, something he vehemently denied after Love dropped 39 on the Wizards. I’m not going to pretend to know what LeBron is thinking, and no doubt he’d love to play alongside his friend Carmelo, but he’s too smart to think this trade is a good idea. This site’s own Dan Feldman and I debated whether adding Anthony for Love would improve the Cavs matchup with the Warriors this season — Dan thinks it does because ‘Melo matches up better against Andre Iguodala, I disagree — but while that is up for debate what isn’t is that Love is better against 28 other teams now, and will be better next season than age 33 and starting to decline, Anthony. Cavs management knows this, and this deal is dead. Not happening. It doesn’t mean the rumors will die, it just means be a smart media consumer and know that the basic facts of the deal are not happening. The Cavs will almost certainly add another playmaker one way or another before the deadline, but more Shelvin Mack than ‘Melo.
• Pelicans talking trades for a big man, with Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor being the frontrunner. The Pelicans are better with Anthony Davis at the center spot, but he’s not built to bang down low in that role for 40 minutes a night. They need to use him in that role sort of the way the Warriors do with Draymond Green at center for the death lineup — 15 minutes a night or so. Finding the right big to play next to Davis the rest of the game has been a challenge, so now the Pelicans are thinking offense and the Sixers’ Okafor. No doubt Okafor can score inside, and the idea is Davis covers his defensive deficiencies. Maybe. I think the price of Alexis Ajinca and a 2018 first-round pick is fair, depending on the protections on that pick (New Orleans should say at least top 10, maybe lottery). But I think the Pelicans have far bigger questions out on the perimeter — like will they pay big to keep Jrue Holiday this summer? — than inside. The Pelicans have misfired in free agency — Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway — and they need more than one trade, they need a series of hits.
• Kings GM Vlade Divac makes it clear: Kings have no intention of trading DeMarcus Cousins. Much like the ‘Melo to the Cavaliers trade rumors, DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors will not die despite the fact nobody with the team, close to the team, or on other teams thinks it’s going to happen. GM Vlade Divac said it again Monday. But it’s simpler than that: Owner Vivek Ranadive doesn’t want to trade Cousins, and owners get their way. Trade Cousins and the Kings would be starting a multi-year rebuild process where the goal would be to get a player as good as Cousins — for a smaller market franchise like this, you don’t just move the star you have. This summer the Kings are going to offer Cousins a designated player max extension (the same one the Warriors will offer Stephen Curry) and Cousins will sign it. And Cousins will spend a few more years in Sacramento.
3) So is this rock bottom for the Knicks? Lakers coach Luke Walton said it’s time to bench his overpaid veterans — Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov — and play his inconsistent young stars such as Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle more. Time to think development over wins. But then that struggling young Lakers lineup goes out and just thrashes the Knicks. New York was down 27 in the second quarter, fans were booing the hometown Knicks throughout the game, and while they won garbage time late to only lose by 14, the game was never that close. After the game the Knicks were hard on themselves. As they should have been.
Brandon Jennings with a blunt, accurate assessment of the Knicks' loss tonight: "This was the worst we've looked all season."
Trading Anthony for spare parts — which is all teams like the Clippers and Cavaliers are offering at the deadline — is not the answer for Phil Jackson. There is no simple answer, other than this summer stop going for the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah quick fixes and build a team around Kristaps Porzingis, filled with guys more on his career arc. Jackson has a lot of work to do on this team over the summer.
Three things we learned Tuesday: The Wizards are legit. Second best team in East?
1) Wizards drop Knicks for 15th home win in a row, Washington may be the second best team in the East. Remember when the Wizards started the season 2-8? All the talk was about how John Wall and Bradley Beal didn’t get along, how Marcin Gortat was ripping the bench’s play, and what the heck was Scott Brooks doing?
If you don’t remember, that’s okay. What you need to know is that since Dec. 1 the Wizards are 22-9, the best record in the Eastern Conference for that stretch. After dropping the Knicks 117-101 Tuesday, Washington has won 15 games in a row at home. Beal had 28 points, while Wall was making it look easy, spinning around the Knicks’ defenders.
What’s gone right in Washington starts with health. Beal and Wall are both finally healthy at the same time, and it turns out when they play together for an extended stretch they do have chemistry — when those two are on the court together, the Wizards have outscored opponents by nine points per 100 possessions this season. Coach Scott Brooks deserves some of the credit for this health. Former coach Randy Wittman was old school and would run three-hour practices at times, rarely relented on making the team work off the court, and by the end of the season the team was worn down and injured (with Beal battling stress fractures). Brooks is a modern coach who keeps his practices tight and is a big believer in time for recovery. It shows.
The Wizards five starters (Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat) outscore opponents by 11.3 per 100 this season — that’s third best in the NBA among five-man lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together. The only lineups that have been better are the Warriors’ starters and the healthy Clippers’ starters — not the Spurs’ starters (+10), not the Cavaliers’ starters (+9.3), not anyone. Brooks has kept the defensive game plans consistent while diversifying the offensive sets — it’s not just Wall pick-and-rolls anymore, there are flex sets and Wall works off the ball at times. The bench that struggled early has rebounded, led by the defensive energy (and some scoring) from Kelly Oubre, Jr.
The Wizards are the current four seed in the East, just two games back of two-seed Boston. All season long we have said that Toronto was the second best team in the East, and that maybe Boston could threaten them for that title. We need to start mentioning the Wizards in that group. They are that good. And they are legit.
2) Kyle Lowry‘s game winner for Raptors was shot of the night. Kyle Lowry had not been clutch this season, going into Tuesday night’s game against the Pelicans he was 1-of-21 on go-ahead shot attempts in final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime (stat via ESPN). Then he did this.
You can’t blame Solomon Hill here — he switched onto Lowry and defended that as well as one could. But good offense beats good defense. Lowry had 33 on the night, and the stumbling Raptors got a win they needed.
3) Kawhi Leonard had a very good night, and the Spurs win.Russell Westbrook has never had a triple-double against the Spurs, not once in 46 games (via ESPN). Over time that is certainly about the system, as are most things in San Antonio, but on Tuesday night it was also about Kawhi Leonard. Westbrook still had 27 points on 17 shots on the night, but was 0-of-4 in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Leonard had 12 points in 4:15 once he checked in for the fourth and he put the game away (the Spurs won 108-94). Leonard also did this:
Leonard had 36 points on the night, to go with his always stellar defense.
The MVP race remains Westbrook vs. James Harden, but that next tier has to include Leonard. He has been brilliant this season.