Bad trend for Boston: Knicks’ veteran bench mattered, Celtics’ didn’t

11 Comments

Tyson Chandler, looking rusty after missing a lot of time with a bulging disc in his neck, wasn’t himself. The New York Knicks count on him to be a defensive force that owns the paint and get a few points off pick-and-rolls, but he wasn’t really doing either.

So Mike Woodson turned to his bench and found Kenyon Martin, who the Knicks picked up off the NBA free agent scrap pile a few weeks before. Martin provided the presence in the paint the Knicks needed (two blocked shots), capped off by stopping a Jeff Green layup late then catching a pass from Carmelo Anthony at the other and making a dagger layup.

Doc Rivers needed help from his bench as well and he got 0-of-7 shooting. He got arguably Jason Terry’s worst game as a Celtic. Which is saying something.

That was a key difference in Game 1 — a New York win — that could become the story of the series.

While we all had a good time poking fun at the Knicks age on the bench, enough of those senior citizens came though to help fuel the Knicks playoff win. That bench gives Mike Woodson options that Doc Rivers just didn’t have in the other locker room.

The age of the Knicks bench has shown this season — they let 40-year-old Kurt Thomas go and 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace retired. Then there is 35-year-old rookie Pablo Prigioni who had started to play a key role for this team but is out with a sprained ankle.

But Woodson still had Martin and Jason Kidd he could count on for quality minutes. Kidd played 35 solid minutes off the bench, scoring eight points and making a couple big plays, particularly anticipating on the defensive end. Even Doc Rivers was singing his praises after the game, via John Schuhmann at NBA.com.

“He beats everyone with his brain,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said afterward. “If you think quicker than a guy can move, you’re still quicker. That’s why he’s there first, because he thought what the guy was going to do before he did it. He’s just a valuable player to have on a basketball team.”

Rivers could have used a guy like that.

Rivers only went to three guys off his bench — Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and Terry — and none of them produced. They had four points, all on Lee free throws. They had six rebounds, zero assists and one turnover. And notice there is not a big man among that group — Rivers had to go small. He misses Jared Sullinger (out for the season with back issues) a lot.

Rivers simply doesn’t have game-changing options off the bench. Woodson has a few guys who could step up on any given night.

And that may be the key difference in this series.

Kevin Durant says Luka Doncic ‘didn’t have to go to class, study hall’

Getty
Leave a comment

Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic Has been a professional basketballer since he was 16 years old, first appearing with the top-tier Real Madrid squad in the ACB in 2015. Doncic has been a resident of Spain since he was 13, and as such he has needed to complete specific schooling as required by Spanish law.

Nobody told Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant that.

In a recent comment about Doncic to media, Durant said that he felt as though part of the reason the Mavericks rookie has a leg up is because he has been able to focus on basketball for much longer than some of his American compatriots.

Via ESPN:

“He played in Europe last season. The rest of the rookie class played in college. So he’s in the second best league in the world learning how to play the game. He didn’t have to go to class, study hall, none of that extra stuff the rest of the guys had to go through, he was just focusing on his game probably since he was 14 years old. So that’s an advantage for him and you could tell that he’s not shy, he’s not afraid of the moment. And he’s going to be a force.”

Durant’s information about Doncic doesn’t appear to be based in fact. Doncic completed his Spanish schooling according to Eurohoops.net, which would mean he’s had to participate in academics up until last year. While Doncic has been a professional — and has been getting paid above board longer than other rookies — it’s not as though he hasn’t had to complete schooling.

This also raises some comparative questions about what Durant thinks goes on for kids in high-level AAU programs, top high school academies in the U.S., or even for players like Durant himself, who played just one year in college. That’s before we even get into semantics about the rigor of academics for sports phenomenons, home and abroad.

The mystery of European prospects has started to fade, but international players still have some kind of shroud hanging around them for people in the U.S., and that includes NBA players. It’s best to get out of this type of thing early and dispel it with the facts we know and have available to us. Durant was being complimentary, of course, but the Warriors forward saying Doncic has been focusing on nothing but basketball since he left middle school is a bridge too far.

In any case, there’s no doubt Doncic is going to be a force. We all picked him for Rookie of the Year, and unless someone stops him that’s exactly what he’s going to be.

Report: Lakers to change up lineups in lieu of LeBron, wins

Getty
2 Comments

The Los Angeles Lakers are not a good basketball team without LeBron James. This is fairly obvious, and we knew the ultimate test heading into this season would be if James suffered an injury that kept him out for a significant period of time.

Of course we have been able to test this theory firsthand this season as LeBron has not played since a 127-101 win over the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day. The Lakers have lost seven of their last 10 games, and so head coach Luke Walton has decided to switch up his starting lineup.

Both Josh Hart and JaVale McGee will find themselves in the reserve rotation moving forward for Los Angeles.

Via Twitter:

McGee started the season strong but has seen a downward trend in subsequent months. McGee’s rebounding numbers and have been disappointing as of late, but most shocking has been his field goal percentage. He’s been hovering in the low-60s all season long but in the month of January McGee has dipped to just 47.4 percent.

Hart has been relatively steady, although January has been hard on him from beyond the 3-point line. Typically a reliable outside shooter, Hart has shot just 17.5 percent from downtown since the start of the new year.

No doubt Walton is hoping that a change in the lineup will help alter some of the scouting opponents have against the Lakers, as well as revitalize both McGee and Hart individually.

Terry Rozier on Celtics’ challenge: “Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Too many mouths to feed.

Among the many “what is wrong with the Celtics?” theories the idea that there are too many players who want touches and shots had a lot of traction around the league. Last playoffs, then rookie Jayson Tatum, second-year player Jaylen Brown, and “scary” Terry Rozier had increased roles — and thrived. They were the alphas (along with Al Horford), the guys with the ball in their hands leading a team to the conference finals, and they liked it — these are young players trying to carve out a role (or, in Rozier’s case, prove to other team’s he’s a starting point guard) and they didn’t want to take a step back. But that’s what had to happen with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to the rotation. The result was a lack of a pecking order on offense, uncomfortable sacrifices, and precious little of the fluid play that got them within a game of the Finals a year ago.

Rozier seems to agree with that theory, speaking to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports in a story about Kyrie Irving’s adjustment to being a leader.

“I don’t think we’ve all been on a team like this,” Rozier told Yahoo. “Young guys who can play, guys who did things in their career, the group that was together last year, then you bring Kyrie and Hayward back, it’s a lot with it.”

When asked if the roster was too talented, Rozier didn’t back down.

“Too talented, yeah. Too talented.”

If everyone buys in, if everyone sacrifices (including Irving), if guys are willing to accept a role, all that talent can make the Celtics versatile and the team everyone expected. The team to beat in the East.

To get there will require Irving to be a leader — in words and actions. That’s more than just calling out the young core, it’s getting them involved and feeling like contributors so they are willing to make sacrifices. It’s doing the little things yourself. Can Irving do all that and turn Boston into the conference favorite we expected.

Or were Nets fans right, he is going to get frustrated and leave this summer?

The second half of this season in Boston is going to be fascinating.

Philadelphia signs Corey Brewer to 10-day contract in effort to add depth

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Philadelphia 76ers remain a step behind Toronto and Milwaukee — and maybe Boston — in the Eastern Conference, despite adding Jimmy Butler to form a “big three” with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. One issue is getting those three to make sacrifices to their games and meld together. The second big issue is depth: J.J. Redick is their fourth best player, then things drop off a cliff.

Enter veteran Corey Brewer.

For at least 10 days, anyway.

The 76ers signed Brewer to a 10-day contract, the team announced Tuesday.

“For me, I love playing basketball. I just wanted another opportunity,” Brewer told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I feel like I did enough last year that I should be on a team. But sometimes things don’t work out the right way … you can’t look it like that. An opportunity is an opportunity. I get to come here, and I gotta prove myself…

“I’m like a glue guy,” he said. “I do all the little stuff. I play hard, I’m going to run hard, and I feel like the way Ben [Simmons] pushes it, that’s right up my alley.”

Brewer is the king of the leak out and may benefit from some Simmons passes that way.

Brewer split time last season between the Lakers and Thunder, and in OKC he showed he could play a role on the right team and shot 34.3 percent from three. That fit was not evident on the young Lakers, Brewer looked out of place and struggled with his shot, which is likely why he was not able to land a guaranteed contract this past offseason.

This is a 10-day contract, the Sixers can sign him to two of those before having to either let him go or commit to him for the rest of the season. This is likely the first in a series of roster moves over the next few weeks as Elton Brand looks to find the right pieces to go around his big three stars so the team can make a push this offseason.