Boston’s defense not all of Cleveland’s problems, Celtics’ offense is clicking, too

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In the wake of Game 1, Boston’s defense on LeBron James and how it frustrated Cleveland as a team was the hot topic. With good reason. Marcus Morris led a ball-pressure attack on LeBron, the other defenders stayed home and pressured shooters, Boston took away passing lanes, and all that forced Cleveland to shoot 36 percent overall and 4-of-26 from three, plus turn the ball over and just look out of sync.

That, however, was not Cleveland’s only problem.

Boston’s offense had a net rating of 114 (points per 100 possessions) in Game 1 — that’s 8.8 more per 100 than the Celtics averaged during the regular season, and 6.6 more than in the playoffs. Boston attacked and scored 60 points in the paint Game 1, added 17 points off 10 Cavaliers turnovers, found some opportunities in transition (off their many stops) and in the end put up 108 points without much effort on Sunday afternoon.

Going back to last playoffs, the Cavaliers have just tried to outscore teams, not win with defense. That has worked well enough, so far. It may not be any more.

Sunday we saw what looked like the Cavaliers’ regular season defense, which was 29th in the league. The Cavs had a couple good defensive possessions in the first five minutes of the game, but soon the Celtics figured it out and picked the Cavs apart. Boston went with a lot of isolation attacks early, specifically targeting Kyle Korver, and it worked beautifully. It set a tone.

If the Cavaliers do not defend better going forward it may not matter that LeBron and the offense started to click because they may not be able to just outscore Boston. These Celtics stick to their gameplan, are not going to make the mistakes of Indiana and Toronto, and are not going to back down from the moment.

In the playoffs, the Cavaliers’ defensive effort has been better, but their recognition and communication on that end was still lacking. Boston blew that up Sunday afternoon. They moved the ball and found the open man, with 27 assists on 43 made buckets.

Boston attacked the rim from the start, and their best defenders on LeBron had the best games on the other end — Jaylen Brown had 23 points, Marcus Morris had 21 points (and 10 assists), and Al Horford had 20.

Despite lacking the shotmaking of Kyrie Irving, the Celtics’ offense has been dialed in during the playoffs. The reason in part is knowing who is on the court, and the chance to follow a good game plan — the Celtics game-plan discipline is the best of any team in the playoffs this season.

“Through the regular season there was so much changes with our group, different injuries, things like that,” Horford said after the game. “Once we’ve been able to settle down and find what fits this group, that’s prompted us to be better offensively. Then you just got to give credit to coach (Brad Stevens), he’s making adjustments and is able to key in, whatever the matchup, and giving us those options to go out there.”

Boston’s offense did feed off the defense. That was especially evident in the 25-4 run that decided the game.

“On offense, we were taking good shots, really moving the ball, and really taking really good looks,” Horford said of the offense during that run. “That helped.”

Tyronn Lue has a lot of work to do before Game 2. Sunday was a wakeup call for the Cavaliers that it will take more than LeBron to carry them this round, and the Cavs need to knock down those open shots they missed in Game 1.

However, the bigger challenge will be coaxing a team that has not played quality team defense all season to start doing it now. If they can’t get better fast, LeBron may not be able to carry this team much further.

Kemba Walker scores 60 but Jimmy Butler hits game-winner with .03 in OT, Sixers win

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Kemba Walker was putting on a “how dare you leave me off your list of top free agents next summer” kind of show in Charlotte, dropping 60 on Philadelphia while Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler trying to stop him. It was a virtuoso performance.

And then Jimmy Butler did this.

This is why the Sixers wanted Butler (or at least one reason). When it got to the end of games Joel Embiid can’ really create his own shot, Ben Simmons can create but his lack of shooting has defenders playing off him and daring him to take jumpers. J.J. Redick can create a little, but that’s not what he does.

It is what Butler lives for. And it’s not the only big play he made late, look at this block and save on Walker to set up the game-winner.

Report: Kings’ front office, coach Dave Joerger disconnect could lead to his firing

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The 8-7 Sacramento Kings are one of the best surprises of the young season. Sacramento has found an identity with point guard De'Aaron Fox pushing the pace — they are the second fastest team in the NBA at 106.3 possessions a game, with 20 percent of their trips down the court starting in transition (also second in the league). While the Kings are middle of the pack in both offense and defense ratings, that is a massive step up from where most predicted this young team to be this season.

So, of course, Sacramento is finding a way to screw that narrative up. Because… Kings.

A disconnect between the front office led by Vlade Divac and coach Dave Joerger could lead to the coach’s dismissal, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Joerger’s handling of 2018 No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III could eventually lead to the coach’s dismissal, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Sources said the franchise is growing frustrated with how Joerger is distributing minutes and assigning roles to the team’s young prospects.

The front office views this season as a development year, sources said, but it was still confident that the team would be competitive and grow with Bagley, promising guard De’Aaron Fox, and forwards Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere getting meaningful minutes. Joerger, generally regarded as one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the league, has favored playing veteran players over developing youth, especially in crunch time.

Vlade Divac, the general manager of the Sacramento Kings, quickly came out in a statement given to NBC Sports and said:

“Dave has our full support and confidence. We continue to work together to develop our young core and compete.”

All season long Jeorger has gone with Nemanja Bjelica over Bagley down the stretch (Bjelica also starts over Bagley). When Kosta Koufos was healthy, he also was a guy Joerger trusted in key moments. Two-way contract player Troy Williams has earned a lot of minutes from Joerger, more than Bagley at times. Joerger’s rotations are not consistent and the report says players don’t feel the coach is communicating clearly about their roles.

All NBA coaches are constantly dealing with the developing vs. winning balance (even the elite teams like the Warriors have young players they are trying to bring along). It’s an age-old problem to have the GM wanting the youth learning on the fly and the coach wanting to win now.

Instability for coaches has been a hallmark of the Kings under owner Vivek Ranadive, going back to before when the Kings pushed out Mike Malone — a DeMarcus Cousins favorite — for George Karl. Malone had taken over for Keith Smart, who coached a season and a half. Jeorger took over for Karl and is in his third season.

The constant coaching upheaval leads to system upheaval and a lack of continuity. It’s been an ongoing issue for the Kings, but as their young players start to develop and show potential — Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein are playing well.

Expect denials all around, but this sounds like about the most Kings thing ever.

Dwight Howard was heckled by arena clean up worker during postgame workout

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Dwight Howard was a beast against the Brooklyn Nets Friday night, dropping 25 points and grabbing 17 rebounds against one of his former teams. Well, he was dominant in the first half, when he picked up a fourth foul relatively early in the third quarter Scott Brooks went away from Howard for too long, the Nets scored at will and pulled away for the win. Still, Friday was Howard’s best game of the season.

And yet he was 3-of-10 from the free throw line, so he went out after the arena closed and practiced his foul shots.

What that video didn’t show was Howard getting heckled during that workout by one of the people hired to clean up the arena. From Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

…before hitting the showers, [Howard] returned to the main court to practice his free throws. He had missed 3 of 10 attempts during the game. So, while Howard got into a shooting rhythm, tuning out the background noise with music playing in his ear buds, a contract worker who was part of a team hired to clean around the 400 level tried to break his concentration.

“Brick!” the worker yelled, but as Howard’s shots swished through the net, he switched to: “’That’s right, Dwight! You better make them!”

While many fans would like to buy that worker a beer, it did not go over so well with the Wizards’ staff, and the man was removed from the arena.

The Wizards are 5-10 on the season with the third worst defense in the league. The Wizards’ defense is not better with Howard on the floor — he’s not the cause of their problems, but he’s not solving them either. His defense was part of the reason the Wizards thought he would be a fit.

Draymond Green to sit out Saturday, likely longer, with sprained toe

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Before the drama around Draymond Green and Kevin Durant against the Clippers, Green had missed a couple of games due to a sprained toe. Against the Clippers, he was 3-of-9 shooting and did not move like he is capable of. Then, after a one-game suspension, Green came back against the Rockets and struggled again, shooting 0-of-3 and not looking like himself.

While some will want to tie this to the Durant incident, the fact is Green’s toe needs more time to heal and he is going to get it, starting with sitting out Saturday vs. the Spurs.

Green said this after his suspension game, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“After playing 42 minutes against the Clippers, it was pretty sore that next day,” Green said of his injured toe, and he then joked, “Thank God I got suspended. I was sore, really sore, so I sat there and iced the whole day. Did some treatment at home. … Everything happens for a reason.”

Kerr said “We decided to give [Green] some time off. Don’t know how long it’ll be.” Which makes it sound like this will be more than one game.

The Warriors are -10.5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when Green is off the court. Combine that with Stephen Curry still being out with a strained groin and the Warriors are battling through some injuries, and suffering some ugly losses because of it, early this season.