Another anemic Celtics’ second half means Knicks win, up 2-0

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Meet the second game, same as the first game…

If you thought the Boston Celtics couldn’t have a worse second half than their disasterous 25-point effort last Saturday in Game 1 against the Knicks, then you don’t know how anemic the Celtics offense can become. This time they blew a six point halftime lead by scoring just 23-second half points and falling to a Knicks team that looked more comfortable 87-71.

The Knicks now lead the series 2-0 heading back to Boston for what promises to be a very emotional game Friday night in the wake of the tragedy that hit that city.

But emotion is not going to be enough unless the Celtics can find some way to create good looks and knock them down in the second half. Boston shot 7-for-36 after halftime. It was ugly. Credit the Knicks for turning up the defensive pressure in the second half, and when they do the Celtics seem to have no counter. They miss the threat of Rajon Rondo creating shots.

Things seemed to go rough for the Celtics in this one from the start. Boston wanted to establish Kevin Garnett early, going him at the midpost on the first play of the game — and he faced up and hit a step-back jumper over Tyson Chandler. But Garnett got two fouls just more than five minutes in and had to sit the rest of the first quarter and the start of the second. And with KG out things went about as well as you’d expect — the Celtics’ defense has struggled all year with him out. Boston trailed by seven early in the second after a 12-0 Knicks run.

But when KG came back in and Celtics went on a 20-5 run of their own with KG getting buckets and making shots. Once again in the first half the Knicks struggled against the Celtics defense, shooting 24 percent for the second quarter and 38 percent for the half. Carmelo Anthony was 3-of-11 shooting in the first half.

But once again the second half looked nothing at all like the first.

The Knicks came out and knocked down to Iman Shumpert threes to tie it then Raymond Felton put them up with a driving lay-up. And it was on.

The Knicks went away from isolation basketball, shared the rock and looked much better. They got 13 points from Carmelo Anthony in the third on his way to 34 points in the game. Tyson Chandler, who has looked flat this series after missing 16-of-20 games down the stretch with a bulging disc in his neck, showed a flash of the defensive force he can be. Garnett started the half 0-for-4 and the Knicks scored on 10-of-11 possessions.

New York won the third quarter 32-11 and led by 15. The Celtics make a little 8-2 run at the start of the fourth by having Jordan Crawford attack Steve Novak. But when that well dried up the Celtics had no other options, no other counters to go to.

Boston’s defense has done it’s job this series — New York scored 87 points on 42 percent shooting, with an offensive rating of just 97 (points per 100 possessions, on the season the Knicks averaged 108.6).

But the Celtics offense has been anemic. When Shumpert on the wing and Chandler in the paint are taking away primary looks the Celtics have no counters, they have no Rondo to bail them out with a drive into the paint.

And without that it’s hard to see how this series lasts more than five games. Boston has to be a very different team at home.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.