Celtics dominate Sixers in Game 2 with their most important trait: consistency

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The Boston Celtics don’t have Kyrie Irving. They don’t have Gordon Hayward. What they do have is perhaps the best coach of these young NBA playoffs in Brad Stevens, and a consistency that their opponents in the Philadelphia 76ers sorely lack. While you can trust the process all you want, the Celtics are trusting their bench players and young rotation guys for even contributions.

To that end, Boston beat Philadelphia, 108-103, to take a 2-0 lead in the semifinal matchup between the two teams on Thursday.

Philadelphia was far more assertive offensively in the first half of Game 2 than they were in Game 1. The Sixers moved the ball, getting double-digit performances in the first two quarters from three starters. Philadelphia shot much better from the 3-point line, amassing more made triples in the first half (7) than they did during the entirety of Game 1 (5).

Meanwhile the Celtics struggled offensively out of the gate, only finally finding a solution to the Sixers’ redoubled efforts on defense late in the second quarter. Down by 21 with five minutes to play in the second, an offensive surge led by Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier saw the Sixers stall defensively, and helped Boston push it to just 56-51 in favor of Philadelphia to end the half.

The Sixers continued their uneven play to start the third quarter. Philadelphia’s offense seemed to slow, particularly after going through first and second reads on set plays. The Sixers stood around, with only the strong side of the floor moving as weak side shooters stood. Boston used Philadelphia’s stagnation to create turnovers, scoring 16 points off changes of possession alone and beating up the Sixers in the transition game, 19-16.

Philadelphia’s poor play apparently didn’t sit with coach Brett Brown, either. Upset with Ben Simmons‘ decision-making, the Sixers coach sat his star point guard for a huge stretch between the third and fourth quarters, more than 12 minutes of game clock. Simmons finished with seven assists and six rebounds, but just one point.

Boston used the stagnant Philly attack to dominate, and the momentum was clearly in favor of the Celtics toward the end of the game. Although the score wasn’t out of reach for the 76ers, the game appeared to be emotionally capped off after Rozier sent an alley-oop to the sky for Jayson Tatum with 2:23 left.

The final chance at a stop for the Sixers was emblematic of Philadelphia’s defensive issues, too. After forcing the Celtics to rotate the ball on offense with less than 15 seconds to go in the game, Al Horford wound up with the ball at the top of the 3-point arc. Embiid jumped out to cover him, giving Horford the open lane for the drive and the easy score with 8.3 seconds left, giving Boston a five-point lead.

Horford could be seen talking to Tatum immediately after the bucket, apparently surprised he was so wide open. The Sixers had happy feet on defense all night, and despite having less active talent, Boston again played a better team game on both sides of the ball as they ground out the win.

For Philly, JJ Redick led the way with 23 points along with three rebounds and two assists. Robert Covington had 22 points, nine rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Embiid contributed 20 points — albeit on 36 percent shooting — with 14 rebounds and five assists.

The Celtics saw a strong performance from Tatum, leading Boston’s scorers with 21 points, two rebounds, and two assists. Rozier continued his playoff hot streak, adding 20 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds. Marcus Smart, wounded thumb and all, scored 19 points with five rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Game 3 is back in Philadelphia on Saturday. The Sixers will need to play more evenly if they expect to make a series out of this thing.

Report: NBA Draft Lottery to be conducted virtually this year

NBA Draft lottery
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We’ve all been part of more virtual meetings — and happy hours — than we care to count. Now 14 NBA teams are going to be on another one — one that could help determine their fate.

The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery will be held virtually on Aug. 20. Not a surprise, but Shams Charania of The Athletic reports it will soon be official.

Teams will still “send” representatives to the lottery, but via Zoom rather than with a lucky charm in person.

This is considered a relatively weak draft, but, as always, there are players near the top who could help teams. The odds of landing the top pick for the eight teams in the lottery are:

1. Golden State Warriors (14%)
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (14%)
3. Minnesota Timberwolves (14%)
4. Atlanta Hawks (12.5%)
5. Detroit Pistons (10.5%)
6. New York Knicks (9%)
7. Chicago Bulls (7.5%)
8. Charlotte Hornets (6%)

Washington’s dreadful play in the NBA restart bubble — the Wizards are 0-6 — means it now has a worse record than both Charlotte and Chicago, but the lottery odds for those teams were locked in before the bubble.

 

Break up the Suns! Phoenix remains perfect in bubble defeating OKC

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points, and the Phoenix Suns rolled past the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder 128-101 on Monday to remain perfect and improve to 6-0 in the restart and improve their playoff chances.

The Suns have surged in the Western Conference standings. They entered the day just 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis and a game behind ninth-place Portland in the race to qualify for a spot in the play-in series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “That may sound like coach-speak, but we dug ourselves a hole with our record. We scrapped all year long and won some games, but it’s been an uphill battle.”

Williams appreciates the position the Suns are in.

“We’ve done a good job of getting to this point,” he said. “No one knew we were going to be here, but we’re here and we’re thankful for that.”

Phoenix center Deandre Ayton sat out the first quarter because he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. He tested negative on Monday and was cleared. He started the second quarter.

“In an NBA season guys are going to make mistakes,” Williams said. “You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional. Thankfully he was able to get tested early enough that he was able to come back and play, and the guys received him with open arms because we all understand we’re human.”

With Ayton out, Oklahoma City led 37-23 at the end of the first quarter. After Ayton entered the game, Phoenix dominated the rest of the way. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 17 minutes.

Oklahoma City was without four of its top five scorers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (bruised right calf), Danilo Gallinari (left ankle maintenance), Dennis Schroder (birth of child) and Steven Adams (bruised left leg) sat out. Reserve center Nerlens Noel (sprained right ankle) also did not play.

Rookie Darius Bazley had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

The Suns rallied from 15 points down in the second quarter to take a 65-64 lead at halftime. Phoenix opened the second half on an 11-2 run and controlled the game from there.

“I thought their pressure disrupted us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we got a little bit stagnant. We made some pretty decent plays. We were able to get some open looks, but I thought there in the second quarter they turned up their defensive intensity and that probably took us out of some rhythm.”

Rumor: Pelicans will soon fire coach Alvin Gentry

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry
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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry works for a lead executive – David Griffin – who inherited, rather than chose, Gentry in the first place. Gentry has had just one winning season in five years in New Orleans, and the Pelicans particularly underwhelmed this season.

Connect the dots.

William Guillory of The Athletic:

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Gentry’s time with the Pelicans won’t last much longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Executive VP David Griffin and Pelicans ownership have a decision to make with a year left on Gentry’s contract, sources said. Consider two relationships Griffin has back to his front-office days in Cleveland and Phoenix, respectively, if there’s a change in New Orleans: LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, sources said.

Zion Williamson was transcendent at times this season. Brandon Ingram blossomed. Youngsters Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes showed flashes. Veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors provided reliable depth and versatility.

But New Orleans was never quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Some of that falls on Gentry.

The Pelicans’ defense was often scrambled. An offensive-minded coach, Gentry hasn’t shown he can correct that issue. His lineup decisions rarely maximized the offense, either.

Lue and Kidd are unsurprising candidates. Lue had a great record working for Griffin with the Cavaliers (obligatory LeBron James mention), and Kidd is good at getting his name tied to job searches. Are Lue and Kidd the most likely coaches to replace Gentry? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just the first candidates to emerge publicly. This job search isn’t even officially underway.

But it could be soon.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.