Celtics have no trouble scoring on Sixers, take Game 1


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.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.