Celtics win three quarters, Knicks own fourth to take Game 1

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Basketball is about how you adapt and how you finish.

The first 24 minutes Saturday’s Game 1 between Boston and New York went exactly how the Celtics want this first round series to unfold — Boston shot 53.6 overall and 4-10 from three, Jeff Green had 20 points on 10 shots, Avery Bradley had 11 points, and their defense disrupted New York and forced them into isolation sets.

While the Celtics offense went cold in the third, their defense still forced the Knicks to be shoot jumpers (contested ones at that), and after 36 minutes Boston was up three. The Celtics looked like they could steal one in New York.

Then in the fourth quarter the Knicks defense stepped up and the Celtics stayed ice cold — Boston shot 3-of-11 with eight turnovers in the quarter. Carmelo Anthony hit 4-of-5 in the fourth to have 8 of his 36 points and the Knicks had four key offensive rebounds.

The result is a huge 85-78 win for New York, putting them up 1-0 in the series. Game 2 is Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

This is a loss Boston is going to kick themselves for — it was a winnable game where they defended and got points from unexpected sources, but their lack of depth and inability generate offense did them in.

Boston had 25 points on 25.9 percent shooting in the second half (credit New York’s defense for some of that, but not all). For the game Boston’s bench was 0-of-7 shooting with 4 points. Jason Terry was a disaster at both ends (0-for-5 shooting with a lot of missed defensive assignments) but Doc Rivers had to play him key minutes down the stretch because he did not have better options.

In a lot of ways this game played out as we expect this series to go.

We saw the gritty Celtics’ defense soak up space and make it difficult for the Knicks shooters — New York as a team shot 40.9 percent for the game. Anthony shot 13-of-29 and saw Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley crowd him and make life difficult. The refs were letting them play in this game and that was to Boston’s advantage as their defense could get physical.

Still, there were stretches when there was nothing Boston could do to stop ‘Melo — he started 4-of-4 because they gave him too much room. He finished the game hitting 4-of-5 in the fourth even with a hand in his face at times.

The Knicks got 15 points from J.R. Smith (but on 19 shots) and some key plays down the stretch from Jason Kidd with steals and offensive rebounds. They showed some poise at home that Boston could just not match.

Jeff Green finished the game with 26 points (he had just six after halftime as he settled and stopped trying to get to the rim) and Paul Pierce added 21. Kevin Garnett shot 4-of-12 on the night but had nine rebounds. However, Boston was 1-of-10 from three in the second half and Pierce and Terry were a combined 1-of-11 from three for the game. Among the things Boston needs in this series is their three pointers to fall.

Doc Rivers has adjustments to make, the problem is without Rajon Rondo, with a shallow bench, his options are limited. The Celtics need guys like Courtney Lee to step up to have any shot in this series — and they can’t have extended dry spells on offense.

For the Knicks, expect better defense out of them in Game 2, they played only a half of defense and got away with it in Game 1. The Knicks need more production out of Tyson Chandler, who showed the effects of the bulging disc in his neck with zero shot attempts and 5 rebounds. Kenyon Martin stepped up in his place with 10 points and 9 rebounds.

And that may be the ultimate difference in this series — Mike Woodson has depth and options that work for the Knicks, while the play of the Celtics bench ties Doc Rivers’ hands.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.

League buzz: Kings will take Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, Luka Doncic gone at three

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It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.

The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.

After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.

At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.

If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.

How is it going to shake out?

That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:

1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges

The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.