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Three things we learned Tuesday: Boston’s defense is its funeral, not Wizards

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA Tuesday night while trying to find cheaper parking than a $74,000 space….

1) Washington wants to credit the all-black funeral attire for the win. Really, it was Boston’s poor defense. Boston and Washington have developed a fun rivalry, one that has gotten chippy in a couple recent meetings. Arriving for Tuesday’s game, the Wizards wore all black — because they were going to the Celtics’ funeral (figuratively not literally).

Then the Wizards went out and handled the Celtics 123-108 behind 31 points from Bradley Beal, while John Wall had 27 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds. Just ask Kelly Olynyk how good Wall was playing.

That’s 14 home wins in a row for the Wizards.

The Celtics were frustrated, to the point that Marcus Smart got into it with an assistant coach on the bench, but after the game apologized (and it was a good one, a genuine apology, not one just written by the PR staff).

That’s three losses in a row, and the reason is Boston’s defense — they are allowing 111.2 points per 100 possessions in January, 26th in the NBA. Their defense hasn’t been good all season (22nd in the league overall) but it has taken a step back the past few weeks. The Celtics are 6-4 in the month because their offense has been improved (fourth best in the NBA for the month) behind the surging Isaiah Thomas, but their poor defense is starting to catch up with them. There are a number of factors in the Celtics’ defensive decline, but the undersized Thomas is a big part of it — in January, the Celtics defense is 15 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court (to be fair, the offense is 17.4 per 100 better when he plays, so Brad Stevens is going to play him). The Celtics defense is particularly getting exposed in the fourth quarter and, according to Synergy, when teams go to isolation sets — Boston has man defenders that can be exploited.

The Celtics remain the three seed in the East, just 1.5 games back of the Raptors for the two seed, but if Boston has playoff dreams beyond the first round they have to sure up their defense. Quickly.

2) Andrew Wiggins with the game winner and Minnesota has a win streak. The young and improving Timberwolves have won three in a row. Sure, those wins were against an injury-ravaged Clippers team, the Nuggets, and the Suns, but the Timberwolves will take it. Tuesday’s win came thanks to Andrew Wiggins, he had 31 points including the game winner as the clock ran out — a good shot where he played through the contact of a good defender in P.J. Tucker and got to his spot on the floor.

If Timberwolves fans want to dream big, their team is just 2.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, although Minnesota would have to leap three other teams (Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento) to “win” the final playoff spot in the West (Denver has the spot now and is six games below .500, and remember the reward for getting that spot is Golden State). Minnesota has improved as the season has gone on — the young team is making fewer mistakes — and they are 6-6 so far in January. This team isn’t coming together as fast as predicted, there are still roster questions (starting at point guard), but they are improving. And still just loaded with talent.

3) Blake Griffin returned for the Clippers, but that couldn’t stop them from blowing a 19-point lead to the Embiid-less Sixers. The good news for the Clippers is Blake Griffin returned to the court after having been out since mid-December with knee surgery. Los Angeles needs him and particularly his playmaking with Chris Paul out – Griffin had a few nice plays where he drew the defense and found teammates for good looks. Los Angeles is much better with him on the court right now.

But that still couldn’t stop Los Angeles from blowing a 19-point lead to Philadelphia. With Joel Embiid sitting out.

The Sixers went on to win by a comfortable 121-110 margin, and Nerlens Noel led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.