Poise? Young Sixers have it, out execute Celtics down stretch to even series

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In Game 1, the Boston Celtics turned up the defensive pressure late, the young 76ers wilted and Boston escaped with a tight win.

Lesson learned.

The Sixers were the poised team down the stretch Monday, with Jrue Holiday hitting a three, Evan Turner making a difficult scoop shot, all the Sixers playing good defense and Turner hitting free throws. Meanwhile Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen missed key jumpers and Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen.

Philly won 82-81 and has evened the series at 1-1 heading back to the City of Brotherly Love.

Between now and Game 3, the Celtics are going to have to find a way to get consistent offense. They are going to have to find some fire and fight, they have played it cool so far. Their veteran depth was supposed to be their advantage coming in — that and the veteran poise at the end of the game — but it has been hit and miss. While their small-ball offense got them back in it Monday it was not enough at the end.

Unlike Game 1 Boston came out playing hard from the opening tip and jumped out to 9-0 lead as the started 5-5 shooting from the field. But that was the first bit of poise we saw from the 76ers all night as they settled down and fought back to be down 25-21 after first quarter, then took lead early in second quarter.

The Sixers did a good job defensively on Boston all game (really, for two games now) — the Celtics scored 24 points in the second and third quarter combined. Rajon Rondo was 4-12 shooting on the night, Brandon Bass 5-15 (12 points for him) and Paul Pierce 2-9.

For the second game in a row Garnett led the Celtics, this time with 15 points on 7-12 shooting. But Boston has to get more production from other guys, and Pierce just does not look himself with that sprained knee. Allen is not himself with ankle issues. But the points need to come from somewhere.

The Sixers led by 8 entering the fourth quarter but they were struggling to score all game as well against the Boston defense. Well, except for Holiday, he bounced back from his 3-13 shooting in Game 1 to score 18 points on 7-15, including going 4-6 from three. He was the guy that had the offense.

But at home, you knew Boston would make a run and sure enough a Garnett turnaround in the lane tied the game with 4:30 to go. It felt like Game 1 — Philly would play them close but the veteran Celtics would make the plays.

Not this time. Philly had the lucky — a Lavoy Allen turnaround 17-footer with 0.9 on the shot clock that banked in — and just the plane good (the ridiculous scoop shot by Turner in the paint). Avery Bradley (who had been out after separating his shoulder again) returned and hit a key three, but Jrue Holiday answered right back. Then Ray Allen answered back again.

The key plays down the stretch for Boston came next — Rondo missed a wide-open shot from the top of the key. Turner scored then Ray Allen missed a contested 15-foot baseline leaner. Turner made his free throws and the Celtics were down three.

That’s when Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen that freed up Paul Pierce for a three-point attempt. It was a moving screen, KG holds and leans out into Andre Iguodala, but you almost never see that call at that point. Against the home team. Against Garnett. Boston was in disbelief.

But Philly made the plays and now will have the chance to take the lead in this series at home.

If one team can figure out how to put up consistent offense in this series, they will pull away. For 45 minutes this game was hard to watch, it felt like a 1990s Knicks game. Without the flair. We were lucky that the final three minutes had big shots and plenty of entertainment.

If at home Philly can get some more transition baskets they can make things hard on Boston. For the Celtics, the points are going to have to come from Rondo or one of the aging bodies on this team. These are two good defensive teams but we are also seeing just a lot of missed good looks.

That’s fine with Philly for a night. They won. They grew up and showed poise and now we have a real series on our hands.

Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Giannis Antetokounmpo absolutely dominated the regular season.

That can be easy to forget. Coronavirus caused a lengthy interruption. In the spotlight when play resumed, Antetokounmpo underwhelmed. The Bucks flamed out in the second round.

So, this timing is awkward.

But MVP is a regular-season award, and Antetokounmpo will deservedly win his second straight.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Antetokounmpo’s performance comes as speculation intensifies about his future in Milwaukee.

He’ll be eligible for a super-max extension this offseason. If he bypasses it, he’ll also be eligible for a super-max contract in 2021 free agency.

Because of this award, Antetokounmpo will now also be eligible to sign a super-max deal in 2022 free agency.

Maybe he won’t be a free agent that offseason. But this opens his options if he takes a shorter contract to let league-wide revenue rise post-pandemic and/or further assess the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has that type of leverage. At just 25, he put himself in the pantheon of players to win consecutive MVPs:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Steve Nash
  • Tim Duncan
  • Michael Jordan
  • Magic Johnson
  • Larry Bird
  • Moses Malone
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Bill Russell

Antetokounmpo has a bright future, especially with the mentality to fix his shortcomings. He must polish his skills (and maybe approach) to thrive in the playoffs. But it’s easy to project growth there.

Already, Antetokounmpo has the regular season solved.

He joins Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) as the only players to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Fun fact: Jordan’s Bulls also lost in the second round in five games the year he claimed both awards. It got better for Jordan and Chicago from there, eventually.

LeBron and James Harden finished second and third in some order for 2020 MVP. The NBA will officially announce the winner at 2 p.m. Presumably, we’ll also get full voting then.

Report: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown bickered in Celtics’ locker room

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After their Game 2 loss to the Heat last night, the Celtics – especially Marcus Smart – made a commotion in their locker room.

What actually happened?

Apparently, Smart and Jaylen Brown got into it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown had a heated confrontation inside that locker room after the Game 2 loss and needed to be separated by teammates, multiple sources told The Athletic.

Sources told The Athletic that Smart stormed into the Celtics postgame locker room saying that other players needed to be held accountable and not simply point the finger toward him when things are going wrong. As Smart continued and his voice grew louder, sources said Brown snapped back and shouted that Celtics players must stay together and that their actions must come as a team, not individually, and that Smart needed to cool off. Those sources added Smart had verbal exchanges with a couple of the assistant coaches during the game.

None of this is new for Smart. Not jawing with a Boston assistant coach during a game. Not getting hot after a loss. Not even clashing with Brown.

This is who he is – sometimes for good, sometimes not. But the same reasons Smart thrives as a feisty player are the same reasons he was going off last night.

Brown, via Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston:

“He plays with passion, he’s full of fire, and that’s what I love about him most, to be honest. He has that desire and that will and we need him to continue to have that. There’s ups and downs with families all the time. But we embrace each other for who we are. And who Marcus is, I love him for it.”

Brown doesn’t mind a little chaos if it serves a greater purpose. He’s emotionally mature enough to handle this.

But will last night’s incident actually help the Celtics? Maybe it’ll light a fire under them to keep their foot on the gas when leading.

Offensive sets that can beat a zone defense would probably go further, though.

Gordon Hayward reportedly feels good, hopes to return for Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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After a frustrating come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics need a boost.

Like the return of Gordon Hayward.

That is on track to happen in Game 3, although nothing is official, reports Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He left the bubble for a time to get treatment, but has been back with the team, working out and going through a practice.

Gordon Hayward could be Boston’s X-factor in the conference finals — and his return may be the lift it needs. He gives the Celtics another versatile wing player — along with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who can create his own shot and knock down open looks. Throw in Kemba Walker, and Hayward would be the fourth scoring option for Boston, making the Celtics deep and difficult to defend. Hayward also spent time guarding Butler during the regular-season matchups.

 

Celtics try to play down postgame yelling, things thrown in locker room

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“You’re not supposed to be happy when you’re down 0-2. Nothing out of the ordinary, just talking about the game.”

Jayson Tatum is right in his postgame comments, to a point. The Boston Celtics should be frustrated after blowing a 17-point lead and losing to the Miami Heat Thursday night, putting the Celtics in an 0-2 hole.

However, that part about “nothing out of the ordinary” and “just talking” in the locker room postgame? That’s not what went down, according to multiple reporters on the scene in the bubble.

After the game, the Celtics tried to play it all down. That started with coach Brad Stevens.

“Guys were emotional after a hard game, hard loss.”

Kemba Walker wouldn’t even discuss it.

“It was nothing. It was nothing. I’m not speaking about it.”

Enes Kanter took to Twitter to echo the comments of several Celtics, that they are still a family.

Boston may have just been venting postgame, but if they don’t bring the fire from the locker room out onto the court Saturday for Game 3, or this may be a very short series.