Kurt Helin

Marcus Smart, Russell Westbrook

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Celtics are locking teams down


The NBA season is starting to develop a rhythm, and while it’s too early to try to draw much out of the statistics (we need to get to 20 games before we draw any serious conclusions) some patterns are emerging, such as the Boston defense. We’ll talk about a couple of those in our five things you need to know from around the NBA on Sunday:

1) Boston is locking teams down. Last season, Boston was an okay defensive team, 12th in the league, and that was enough to get them into the postseason. This season coach Brad Stevens has the Celtics locking teams down early — they are fourth in the NBA in defense, allowing just 94.4 points per 100 possessions (that’s 7.4 per 100 better than last season). Two key areas are driving this. The first is turnovers — Boston is forcing turnovers on 19.4 percent of opponent possessions, the highest rate in the NBA. Sunday against Oklahoma City, Boston forced 18 turnovers and that was one of the keys to a quality win for the Celtics. Jae Crowder leads the NBA in steals (which is stunning). I’m not sold Boston can maintain this pace of turnovers, but they likely remain near the top of the league. The other area is simply forcing other teams to miss shots — opponents have an eFG% of 46.5 percent against the Celtics, fifth in the NBA. Maybe the best illustration of that Sunday was Marcus Smart going up against the powerhouse that is Russell Westbrook — while Westbrook had 27 points, he was 5-of-20 shooting (Smart had 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting). Maybe the highest compliment to Smart’s play was how Westbrook played it down postgame.

Holding Westbrook in relative check was not all Smart, it was a team effort, but that is what Boston has been doing all season and why they again look like a team headed toward the playoffs in the East.


2) Karl-Anthony Towns went head-to-head with Marc Gasol and held his own. The crazy thing — Towns turned 20 on Sunday. Even at that age Towns went head-to-head with one of the best centers in the game in the younger of the Gasol brothers and completely held his own — Towns had 14 points and nine rebounds. Sure, Gasol put up numbers (16 points, seven rebounds) and his wet midrange jumper in the second half was key to the Grizzlies win, but if you’re a Timberwolves fan you have to be excited with what you see. Towns has been the best rookie in the NBA so far this young season (he’s averaging 15.5 points and 10.2 boards a game).

3) Don’t sleep on Charlotte. The Hornets handled the Trail Blazers fairly easily at home on Sunday, and while it’s certainly early it looks like this is a team that will be in the mix to return to the playoffs this season. What they are doing is not beating themselves — they don’t turn the ball over, and they are focused on grabbing defensive boards (best rate in the NBA so far) so the opponent doesn’t get a second chance. Charlotte has the seventh best offense in the NBA this young season, Jeremy Lamb has played well of late (he’s looking like a guy who deserved that extension), Jeremy Lin has fit well as a sixth man (11.5 points a game, a PER of 18.3) and this is a team that is difficult to beat. If you are looking ahead on your team’s schedule and think “Charlotte, that’s an easy win” you will be in for a rude awakening. 

4) DeMarcus Cousins is beasting. Over his last three games, Cousins is averaging 36.3 points and 10.7 rebounds a game, while shooting 51.4 percent. He dropped 36 and 10 on Toronto and they had no answer — Cousins was central to a win the Kings needed before a five-game road trip opens.

5) Anthony vs. Anthony: Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis put on a show at MSG. It was a noon tip at Madison Square Garden Sunday — an early start in a city with great nightlife means a sloppy game (call it the J.R. Smith memorial issue). Despite that, Carmelo Anthony and Anthony Davis put on a show for the fans (and those fans left happy after seeing a Knicks win).

Kobe, Clarkson lead Lakers past Pistons 97-85 for 2nd win

Kobe Bryant
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant‘s entire 37-year-old body is aching for an ice bath and a day off just 10 games into his 20th NBA season.

Bryant still put in the extra effort necessary to make sure those 10 games weren’t the worst start to a season in Lakers history.

Bryant had 17 points, eight rebounds and nine assists to help Los Angeles beat the Detroit Pistons 97-85 Sunday night for its second win of the year.

Andre Drummond had 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons, who finished a six-game West Coast trip with their fourth consecutive loss.

Bryant went 6 for 19 from the field during a season-high 37 minutes, but finished with a season-high in assists. He stayed in until the Lakers’ win was assured, even though it meant he won’t play in the Lakers’ game in Phoenix on Monday to rest.

“We’ve got to get this win here at home,” Bryant said. “(But) right now, I’m barely standing up. My back and my legs, it’s killing me. I go home, and I’m looking forward to that ice bath and the stretch, and a full day of recovery tomorrow. … I’m not looking forward to walking to the car. Seriously.”

Jordan Clarkson scored 17 points and Los Angeles snapped a four-game skid in its return from a long East Coast trip. The Lakers are only 2-8, but that’s one game better than last season’s Lakers, whose 1-9 start led to the worst record in the franchise’s history.

“We needed this one,” Clarkson said. “We really dug down defensively.”


Smart leads Celtics past Thunder 100-85

Marcus Smart, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Marcus Smart scored a career-high 26 points to help the Boston Celtics beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-85 on Sunday night.

Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points, Avery Bradley had 14 and Jared Sullinger added eight points and 15 rebounds to help the Celtics win their third in four games. Boston shot 48 percent and outrebounded the Thunder 47-34.

Smart, who played college ball at nearby Oklahoma State, also guarded Russell Westbrook effectively. He was part of a collective effort that held the reigning scoring champion to 5-for-20 shooting. Westbrook still scored 27 points and carried a larger load with Kevin Durant out with a hamstring injury.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, and the Thunder had a season-low point total and their worst shooting performance.

Westbrook had posted triple-doubles in his previous two games but finished this one with just five assists and four rebounds.

Oklahoma City’s three-game win streak was snapped.

The Thunder led at halftime 52-45 behind 17 points from Westbrook. They pushed the lead to 11 early in the third quarter, but the Celtics rallied and trimmed their deficit to 74-72 by the end of the third quarter. Boston finally took the lead early in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Thomas. Back-to-back 3s by Thomas and Avery Bradley pushed Boston’s lead to nine, and a layup by Thomas bumped it to double digits for the first time. The Celtics never lost control from there.


Celtics: Smart got a technical with 1:47 left in the second quarter. … Brad Stevens coached at Butler before heading to the NBA to coach the Celtics and said he was impressed with Butler’s 144-71 win over The Citadel on Saturday night. … Boston made just 13 of 20 free throws. … F Kelly Olynyk fouled out with seven points.

Thunder: G Anthony Morrow got his second straight start in Durant’s place. He went scoreless in 14:56. … Kyle Singler had scored 18 points over his first eight games this season, but had eight Sunday. … There was a marriage proposal during Kiss Cam in the third quarter. … Westbrook and Dion Waiters were issued technicals in the second half.


Too much DeMarcus Cousins down stretch for Raptors (VIDEOS)


DeMarcus Cousins was in beast mode again on Sunday night — he dropped 36 points on the Raptors in a Sacramento win and made critical plays down the stretch.

That started with the drive and dunk you see above, a nifty little play for a guy his size, and that play turned out to be pretty much the dagger.

But he was making plays all night, such as this block on Toronto’s Kyle Lowry.


Kevin Durant says hamstring feels “way better”

Kevin Durant, Steven Adams, Russell Westbrook
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Oklahoma City has held its own without Kevin Durant in the lineup — well, at least until they got handled at home by Boston on Sunday. Consider that your latest reminder the Thunder need KD back from his strained hamstring.

And they may get him sooner rather than later to hear Durant tell it. Here is what he said pregame on Sunday (he did not play), via Royce Young of ESPN.

“Feeling a lot better,” he said. “Way better, actually….

“Hamstrings are a little different,” Durant said. “You can re-injure them pretty easily if you try and play through it, or as we say now, ‘Be tough.’ I call that being dumb. But hamstring strains you can’t really try and play through it. Just got to get it right and make sure everything is perfect when I come back to play.”

Officially there is no timetable for his return. Durant will be re-evaluated in the coming days, but if you know anything about this organization they will err on the side of caution. He has yet to practice; he’s likely to miss another couple of games.

Which means a couple more games of Anthony Morrow starting (coach Billy Donovan wanted to keep the top of the bench rotation in check). The Thunder can hang on with the Russell Westbrook show, and then hope this time when they get healthy they stay healthy.