NBA Power Rankings: Memphis hangs on but Spurs, Heat charging

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If you ask me who was the best team in the NBA was last week, well, it was Denver. But they are fully capable of a winless week now, so we leave Memphis in the top spot this week. And Washington is still trying to find a win and a way out of the cellar (it will take more than one win).

source:  1. Grizzlies (9-2, last week ranked No. 1). Their loss came to a red-hot Nuggets team and they bounced back with a win showing the Lakers — and co-owner Justin Timberlake who was courtside — where the best team in the West is playing right now. You can pick apart things like their defensive rebounding, but they are still playing better than anyone.

 

source:  2. Spurs (11-3, LW 4). Tough loss to start last week but rebounded to start a six-game road trip 3-0 with wins over Boston, Indiana and Toronto — and those three wins are without Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson. Should be fun game against the Heat Thursday.

 

source:  3. Heat (10-3, LW 5). The schedule maker gave the Heat some early-season rest — just two games last week then four-days off until they play again Thursday (against San Antonio). They have time to get their Christmas shopping done early, but you know Mario Chalmers is going to wait to the last minute then try to be the hero.

 

source:  4. Thunder (10-4, LW 6). We’ve been waiting for the Thunder to look like the Thunder, and we saw it last week against the Clippers. But they are doing that despite playing some pretty weak defense the past week or so. That’s a trend that can’t continue.

 

source:  5. Clippers (8-5, LW 3). Their schedule was a test last week — Spurs, Thunder, Nets and Hawks — and they came out 1-3. They lost because their offense took a night off one night and then their defense did the same another. Jamal Crawford has hit a cold streak and the Clippers offense can’t really afford that. But have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far, so we cut them some slack.

 

source:  6. Knicks (9-3, LW 2). The Knicks defense, particularly on pick-and-rolls and in up-tempo situations, was exposed last week when they gave up 114 points to the Mavericks and 131 to Jeremy Lin and the Rockets. The big battle of New York against the Nets is Monday, and Deron Williams can run the pick-and-roll, too.

 

source:  7. Hawks (8-4, LW 15). They are on a five-game winning streak having taken advantage of a soft spot in the schedule (Kings, Magic, only good win was over the Clippers who were on the second night of a back-to-back). That continues this week with only Charlotte and Cleveland on the schedule.

 

source:  8. Nets (8-4, LW 8). They played defense against the Clippers like they need to come the playoffs if they want to be a real threat. And doing it more in the regular season would be nice, too. Monday night showdown with Knicks should be fun, the rescheduled season opener wiped out by hurricane Sandy.

 

source:  9. 76ers (8-6, LW 9). With Andrew Bynum out until lord knows when, Doug Collins is just turning the offense over to Jrue Holiday, and that has been enough. For now. Defense and athleticism are getting them by but you feel like the bottom could fall out of this any time.

 

source:  10. Lakers (7-7, LW 10). Has there been a more up-and-down NBA team in the Association this season? Three wins by more than 20, but also some ugly losses. Lakers fans, and maybe their coach, seem to think the return of Steve Nash will solve these problems but he’s no cure all, especially to the erratic defense.

 

source:  11. Celtics (7-6, LW 11). They got a quality win last week against the Thunder and more importantly they had a couple games where they got good bench play — if they are going to climb the Eastern standings it will be on the back of the bench. Big tests against the Spurs and Thunder this week.

 

source:  12. Nuggets (8-6, LW 19).  The NBA’s streakiest team is hot again with a four-game winning streak that includes a victory over the Grizzlies. But until they play more consistent defense they will continue to be up and down. And you know that drives George Karl nuts.

 

source:  13. Bucks (6-5, LW 7). An 0-3 week (including a loss to the Bulls) and suddenly they look like a team that could find a way to let Chicago and Indiana hang close until those sides get healthy then steal the division away. They need to be better now. This is their window.

 

source:  14. Mavericks (7-7, LW 13). If you told Dallas they could be 7-7 without Dirk Nowtizki to start the season they would have taken it. But they have a lot of road games the next few weeks and unless Darren Collison starts to play more consistently they could start to fall down the boards.

 

source:  15. Bulls (6-6, LW 14). They went into Milwaukee, played some of their best defense of the season and got Carlos Boozer to show up for a night. They are right there in the Central division now and if they win it with Rose back it means a top-four playoff seed.

 

source:  16. Jazz (7-7, LW 16). I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a 1-3 week next week for the Jazz. Why? They are home for one game (where they are 5-0) and on the road for three more (where they are 2-7).

 

source:  17. Warriors (8-6, LW 18). Still not sold on them, but quality wins over the Nets and Mavericks last week and now they may get Andrew Bogut back come Saturday. By the way, I love watching Harrison Barnes play.

 

source:  18. Bobcats (7-5, LW 22). This record is a bit of a mirage — six of the seven Bobcats wins have come by four points or less and those bounces will eventually go the other way and even out. Still, they have as many wins this season as they did last season, so good on them.

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (5-7, LW 12). They got Kevin Love back early but that hasn’t ended a five-game losing streak. They need to get back to defending better and hold on for Ricky Rubio’s return without giving up much more ground.

 

source:  20. Trail Blazers (6-7, LW 20). They started a seven-game road trip on Sunday in Brooklyn (a loss) and making that swing without LaMarcus Aldridge will be the biggest test for this team.

 

source:  21. Rockets (6-7, LW 21). They got a headline win in New York, but really that feels hollow right now and all we can say is we wish the best to Kevin McHale and his family on the loss of his daughter.

 

source:  22. Pacers (6-8, LW 17). How do you fall in the rankings despite getting a couple wins? When those wins come against the Hornets and Wizards. Go ahead and argue the Pacers are a team built for the playoffs (big, physical, grinding with a good defense), you still have to get there.

 

source:  23. Suns (6-8, LW 24). They have their next five games on the road and that is where teams not playing good defense tend to struggle. Phoenix is 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

 

source:  24. Magic (5-7, LW 25). Magic fans are happy to say they dodged the Andrew Bynum bullet, looking at his current knee injury. Okay, that’s short term (for now). But if you’re thinking that way, you rejected Brook Lopez and he is having a career year.

 

source:  25. Kings (4-9, LW 29). Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but the starting lineup of Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins is playing well. Problem is, no other Kings lineup really is.

 

source:  26. Pistons (3-11, LW 27). This is not a good basketball team, but if you want a silver lining maybe Andre Drummond is starting to find his way in the league. Think big picture with that one.

 

source:  27. Raptors (3-11, LW 26). Four straight losses — including a heart-breaker to the Spurs in double overtime — and now five of the next six games are on the road. Not a recipe for success. Especially if Andrea Bargnani has another 2-of-19 shooting night.

 

source:  28. Hornets (3-9, LW 23). You can blame injuries (Anthony Davis has played in half the team’s games due to a concussion and an ankle issue), and you can blame growing pains (see any part of Austin Rivers’ game). But still seven straight losses. That is not good for your ranking.

 

source:  29. Cavaliers (3-10, LW 28). Credit where credit is due — Jeremy Pargo has been better than we expected leading the Cavs offense with Kyrie Irving out. Still, they steam has one win in their last 9 games. Because while their offense isn’t good their defense is horrific.

 

source:  30. Wizards (0-11, LW 30). If it’s any consolation, they came a lot closer to a win last week… no, that’s not any consolation. But the good news is Nene has been a +31 through two games — when he is on the court good things are starting to happen for Washington. Just not enough of them yet.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White

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You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any one of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments in this series.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?

 

Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat

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What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images
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Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6

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Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.