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.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

Getty
3 Comments

Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

AP
2 Comments

No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
2 Comments

76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

Getty Images
2 Comments

The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.