Celtics have no trouble scoring on Sixers, take Game 1

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Game plan discipline.

Boston had it Monday night in Game 1. They slowed the game way down, a pace of 99 possessions (well off the Sixers preferred pace). On defense, they took away transition buckets, particularly the threes, on which the Sixers thrive. In the halfcourt, Philly loves to move off the ball on curls and plays to get quick looks, but Boston cut a lot of those off. The shots the Sixers wanted weren’t there, and they shot 47.2 percent from three.

On offense, Boston did to Philly what the Sixers do to others — run enough actions that the defense loses focus and opens things up. That and they went right at Marco Belinelli whenever they could.

The result was a Terry Rozier with 29 points and seven threes, Jayson Tatum with 28 points, and a comfortable 117-101 win for a Boston team that was supposed to struggle to score in this series. Not in Game 1, despite Jaylen Brown sitting on the bench with a hamstring injury.

The Celtics lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 Thursday night in Boston.

“We’re a well-coached team, we’re going to play hard regardless of who is out there on the floor,” Rozier said after the game. “Obviously we’ve been showing that (all season). We’ve got to keep it going, we’ve got to pay attention to details.”

It’s going to be difficult to keep it going at this pace, everything worked for Boston. The Celtics shot 17-of-36 from three as a team, and got 26 points from Al Horford, who knocked down a couple of threes (as did Aron Baynes) to pull Joel Embiid away from the basket and open up lanes.

For Boston, it was the kind of night where Marcus Smart could outrebound Joel Embiid and get the and-1.

The young Sixers did not look ready for the moment, they were out of synch from the start. This isn’t the first round of the playoffs anymore, things ratchet up. The TD Garden in Boston is a far more raucous environment than Miami (who Philly handled in the first round), and the Boston players are more talented than the Heat’s squad.

“I don’t know if the time off hurt us (six days between games), but it sure felt like we were playing a good team today,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said, adding later “Defensively, offensively, this isn’t who we are. This was a very poor game from us.”

Embiid had 31 points on 21 shots and was a handful for Boston’s defense. However, the Celtics were 5-of-26 from three (19.2 percent) and were just missing looks all game. Redick finished with 20 points, and Ben Simmons had 18.

A key for the Sixers in this series is to force missed shots and turnovers, then convert those into transition buckets — Philadelphia played at a fast pace all season long and averaged 103 possessions per game in the first round, but were held under 100 in this one (99). Take away the easy buckets and the Sixers do not put up points the same way, and it’s something they need to focus on for the next game.

But more importantly, the Sixers were just not dialed in mentally. Robert Covington could well end up on the NBA All-Defensive team this season for his play, but he lost his man multiple times in Game 1. It was an epidemic.

It went that way from the start. The first half went about as well as the Celtics could have scripted it. Boston defends well and the Sixers seemed to rush their play, leading to a series of quick turnovers (three by Simmons), while Redick started 1-of-6 from the floor. The Celtics didn’t double and challenged the Sixers to beat them one-on-one, and Philly’s ball movement was cut off.

Meanwhile, the Celtics showed incredible game-plan discipline, and clearly at the top of their scouting report was “attack Marco Belinelli at every opportunity” because they hunted him out. The result was plays like this from Tatum.

The result was a 56-45 Boston lead at the half. Tatum had 16 at the break, Horford 12, and Rozier had 13 points and 7 rebounds. Those guys continued that shooting and play through the second half, and now they have a lead in this series.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.