Three Things to Know: Clippers falling apart, Sixers hand them sixth straight loss

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while trying to figure out a coffee puzzle

1) What is wrong with the Clippers?Joel Embiid puts up 32 as Sixers hand them a sixth straight loss. The Clippers were a great story when the season tipped off, Chris Paul was gone, and they still won four straight and looked like a team, led by Blake Griffin, that was going to be a playoff team. The offense was great led by Griffin knocking down threes — he’s still doing that at 36 percent and taking a third of his shots out there, no longer living on long twos — and the defense was good enough.

Since then the Clippers are 1-7 and after the Sixers came into Staples and beat them Monday 109-105, Los Angeles has lost six in a row.

What happened? They stopped defending.

During the six tame losing streak, the Clippers still have a solid offense (scoring 106.1 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the NBA in that stretch) but they have the NBA’s worst defense (113.8 per 100). Teams are shooting 49.9 percent against the Clippers, and while the Clips are forcing midrange shots they are not contesting them enough. The defensive issues start with DeAndre Jordan, who has been an All-NBA level anchor on the defensive end for the past few seasons but has been a step slower this season. Monday night, Joel Embiid had far more energy and dropped 32 points and 16 rebounds on DJ (and backup Willie Reed, who got in a tussle with Embiid and motivated him). Another sign of his Jordan’s rim protection not being the same — and the Clippers rotations being lax — is Ben Simmons having seven dunks on the night.

We shouldn’t let the Clipper offense entirely off the hook, there has been a lot less player movement and a lot more isolation than there was, the ball is not switching sides of the court anymore, it’s just that Griffin and the Clippers are talented enough to keep scoring with the ugly ball. They just can’t get stops.

Injuries are part of this. Three starters have been out: Milos Teodosic with a plantar fascia injury since the second game of the season, Danilo Gallinari with a strained left glute, and Patrick Beverley, who has a sore right knee that was drained of fluid last week. Their team doesn’t have the depth to survive injuries for long. But that’s still not an excuse for the defensive effort.

The Clippers head back out on the road for five straight, starting Friday in Cleveland. Things could get worse before they get better.

2) LeBron James, Kyle Korver turn it on for one quarter, and that’s enough to beat Knicks. The Knicks thought they were going to have a statement win — they were up 23 points in the third, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter each had 20 points, and Madison Square Garden was rocking and climbing all over LeBron (both for his pregame comments and then having words with Kanter during the game).

Then the Cavaliers woke up and played one hard quarter — Cleveland put up 43 points on 26 shots, Kyle Korver hit five threes on his way to 19 points in the fourth, LeBron had eight assists, the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds and three blocks.

All of that got the Cavaliers back in it, then LeBron isolated against Kristaps Porzingis and put Cleveland up for good.

This was an ugly win for the Cavaliers, but it pulls them up to .500 at 7-7 so they will take it. For the Knicks, improving in the NBA as a young team comes with some hard lessons. This is one of them, but at 7-6 and with Porzingis playing well this looks like a playoff team. Just not on the level of the Cavaliers when the Cavs care.

3) Pelicans get Rajon Rondo back… and win over Hawks thanks to Darius Miller. Two of the most significant questions coming into this season in New Orleans were how well Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could pair along the front line, and how well Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo could mesh in the backcourt? The answer to the first question is very well — the Pelicans were +7.7 points per 100 possessions when both Davis and Cousins are on the court together coming into Monday night’s game against the Hawks.

We don’t know how well Rondo and Holiday will pair yet because Rondo has been out all season following a sports hernia surgery. But answers to that question is coming soon as Rondo was back on Monday night — on a minutes limit where he only played 4:55, but at least back. Rondo entered in the middle of the first quarter and made his one shot, and the Pelicans were +6 in the just over one minute he was paired with Holiday. It’s a start.

Atlanta somehow kept Anthony Davis in check despite Luke Babbitt being his opposite number most of the night, but New Orleans came back thanks to five threes from Darius Miller, who had 14 points in the fourth quarter to spark the win. It’s not a win the Pelicans should celebrate — they struggled with a bad Hawks team at home — but you take the wins where you can get them in the NBA.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics

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It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White

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You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?

 

Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat

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What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
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Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.